Term-limit battle tops year’s events in Niles
In 2012 the village replaced its controversial Blase Plaza Sign with a new sign renaming the area Niles Plaza. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
MOST-READ NILES STORIES ON THE WEB
1. Mexican food chain makes fresh start in Niles, Feb. 10
2. Man robs Niles bank branch, Feb. 26
3. 911 dispatcher describes rush, reward of heeding calls for help, April 9
4. Father-son physicians give new meaning to family practice, June 10
5. James’ prodigious workload leads Notre Dame to upset victory, Oct. 26
- Petition seeks term limits for Niles village officials
- Niles considering term limits for elected officials
- Term-limits question will go to Niles voters next spring
- Niles village manager resigns, accepts job in Skokie
- Mayor: Blase assured trustees payouts were ‘done legally’
- Niles trustees mull investigation of severance bonuses
- New political parties vie for Niles leadership
- New Niles Party hopes to sharpen government ‘focus’
- Candidates line up for 2013 election filing
- New sign for a new era in Niles
- Panel wants to promote Niles’ awards on new plaza sign
Updated: February 25, 2013 2:21AM
NILES — From a Niles resident taking on Village Hall to trustees removing the name of the village’s longest-serving mayor from the municipal plaza, it was another busy year in Niles. The following are the stories that made our top five list for 2012.
1. Resident fights for term limits
On July 27 resident Joe Makula walked into Niles Village Hall and filed a petition to get term limits for village trustees and the mayor on the Nov. 6 ballot. Makula and other residents collected 1,018 signatures, wanting voters to weigh in on setting four, four-year terms for village officials.
But things didn’t go smoothly. Village Clerk Marlene Victorine did not certify the petitions, saying that the sheets were not in apparent conformity with the Illinois Election Code. Makula took the matter to court, and lost, but is not giving up. Makula filed another petition at Niles Village Hall on Dec. 7 to try to get his proposal on the April ballot.
In the meantime, the Village Board of Trustees also approved a resolution to put a referendum on the April 2013 ballot, asking voters if trustees should be limited to three, four-year terms and the mayor limited to two, four-year terms. This means voters will likely see two dueling term-limits referendums when they hit the polls.
Mayor Robert Callero said at the Nov. 27 board meeting that he still feels the limit for mayor should be three full terms as opposed to two full terms. The resolution passed by the trustees does not make term limits retroactive. On the contrary, if Makula’s is approved, two long-time trustees would not be able to run again.
2. Village manager leaves For Skokie
Village Manager George Van Geem started off 2012 under fire when a group of trustees offered him a buyout of a six-month severance package if he left his top position with the village. All of the trustees wanted Van Geem to leave, with the exception of Trustee Andrew Przybylo who stated he never got an answer as to why other board members wanted Van Geem ousted.
Van Geem rejected the buyout and Mayor Robert Callero reappointed him as village manger. But Callero did not get the advice and consent of the Village Board, making Van Geem a “holdover” village manager.
On Nov. 20 Van Geem e-mailed village officials to say he was resigning. After 20 years with the village of Niles, Van Geem kicked off his new career as finance director with the village of Skokie on Dec. 10. Skokie Village Manager Al Rigoni, who has been a long-time friend of Van Geem, said he was looking forward to having Van Geem on the village’s team.
“Everybody was surprised,” said Niles Trustee Jim Hynes about Van Geem’s resignation. But Hynes acknowledged that the manager’s resignation made sense “given the tension that has been there for so long.”
3. Past bonuses to employees revealed
After rejecting a buyout trustees had offered him to leave his position, Village Manager George Van Geem made a comment about former village managers receiving better deals than what he had been presented. This prompted trustees to start some digging. Memos were found that revealed former Mayor Nicholas Blase approved payments to past officials, but no meeting minutes showing trustees had approved the expenditures were found, according to village officials.
It was revealed that past Village Manager Abe Selman took home a retirement bonus of $112,500, a car and five years of family insurance in 2002. Former Village Manager Mary Kay Morrissey accepted a $100,000 bonus and bought a car for only $10. And those were just a few of the discoveries.
“What action should we be taking?” asked Trustee Rosemary Palicki when the incidents were revealed. “Is disclosure enough?”
The documents that included the bonuses were turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
4. Dueling slates emerge for 2013
It looks like it will be an exciting election in Niles next spring.
The New Niles Party 2013 includes current Village Trustee Andrew Przybylo running for mayor and his slate consisting of George Alpogianis, Danette O’Donovan Matyas and John Jekot running for three trustee seats. Przybylo is the co-owner of the White Eagle Banquet Hall in Niles and Alpogianis is the owner of Kappy’s Restaurant in Morton Grove. Matyas serves on the Niles Public Library Board and Jekot has been a long-time member of the East Maine District 63 board of education.
“We will get elected,” said Przybylo during a recent press conference held at the White Eagle. “We’re going to run hard. We’re going to run fast.”
A few of the slate’s goals are to create six standing committees to give trustees “true responsibilities,” enact a new zoning ordinance to help improve home values and have village department heads and their staff evaluated by performance management.
The Responsible Leadership for Niles Party consists of Village Trustee Chris Hanusiak, who is running for mayor, and Trustee Louella Preston, Trustee Jim Hynes and resident Mary Marusek running for village trustee. Hanusiak is the owner of Royal Kitchen and Bath and Marusek is a former Niles Park District Commissioner.
Hanusiak said the slate won’t start campaigning until January, so he has not shared any specific goals of the party yet. A press release said their party “promotes active resident participation which yields a more responsive and transparent government.”
5. “Blase Plaza” sign comes down
A bright blue sign representing the past and the future of Niles was installed this fall in front of Village Hall where the former “Nicholas B. Blase Plaza” sign once stood. The new sign reads “Village of Niles, Inc. 1899, Where People Count” and includes an image of the Leaning Tower YMCA, a symbol of the village’s legacy, and a white oak tree representing the Niles’ commitment to the environment.
Trustee Rosemary Palicki and some residents wanted the Blase Plaza sign removed due to Blase’s federal corruption conviction, while others in the village wanted it to remain. A survey was distributed through the village newsletter and out of 1,579 residents who responded, 905 wanted the sign to stay and 674 wanted it gone. Palicki responded that the survey was unscientific and the sign was removed this fall.
Trustee Andrew Przybylo referred to the Blase Plaza sign as a “testament of the good works of an imperfect man.” The village is now holding a contest for artwork that will be designed by a local high school student to be installed next to the new sign.