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updated: 3/4/2012 6:25 AM

Despite call for civility, Winfield still boils over

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  • Tim Allen

      Tim Allen

  • Deborah Birutis

      Deborah Birutis

  • Stan Zegel

      Stan Zegel

 
 

A few months after Village President Deborah Birutis called for a return to respect and civility, politics in Winfield continues to be as vicious as ever.

Birutis recently engaged in a bitter email exchange with Trustee Tim Allen, who suggested the first-term leader resign -- or face certain defeat in 2013.

Meanwhile, Allen and the local blog he operates is in a war of words against a newly revived newspaper published by Stan Zegel, a former trustee and frequent Allen critic. Zegel claims Allen is trying to kill The Winfield Register by organizing a boycott of businesses advertising in the paper.

Birutis sides with Zegel in the matter.

"When somebody personally threatens you and tries to shut down a paper that doesn't agree with his views, it's just unacceptable," Birutis said. "I can't get along with somebody who acts in that manner."

But Allen blames Birutis' leadership style for making it difficult for divided village board members to find common ground. "She makes everything a miserable slog," he said.

When it comes to the Register, Allen charges that Zegel resurrected the newspaper last month solely to defeat a March 20 ballot question calling for trustees to be elected from six districts instead of at-large.

Allen, who organized a petition drive to get the districting question before the voters, said he believes it's the best way to bring peace to the town.

"Winfield is broken," Allen said. "There's this whipsaw effect between the anti-development crowd and the pro-development crowd. We sweep each other in and out of office. It leaves Winfield stagnant."

The last shake-up on the village board happened last spring when trustees Allen, Tony Reyes and James Hughes were elected. Trustee Erik Spande was appointed by Birutis to the board immediately after that election.

There have since been heated debates as to whether Winfield should push for commercial development along busy Roosevelt Road. Unlike in other nearby towns, the Winfield stretch of Roosevelt is mostly surrounded by trees and natural growth.

Allen and Reyes say developing Roosevelt should be a priority because it could enhance village revenue. But opponents say that would cause the town to lose a lot of its character.

"Do we as a village decide that we're going to make money by commercializing Roosevelt Road or not?" Allen said. "She (Birutis) is definitely on the 'no' side, and I am definitely on the 'yes' side. And the closer we come to having to make this decision, the more vicious both sides get."

Their differing views on Roosevelt Road bubbled over in a recent email exchange.

Allen told Birutis he has a coalition that wants development on Roosevelt -- and that any efforts to stop them will only work for "a little while." He then suggested she resign.

"You are going to lose," Allen wrote. "It's just a matter of time. What is gained by waiting until 2013?"

Birutis said she won't be stepping down before the end of her term.

"I'm trying to bring civility back to this board," she said. "Public officials have a duty to be civil and respectful to one another, municipal employees, business owners and our residents. And I am horrified when a trustee behaves improperly."

Allen makes no excuses for his emails to Birutis. He also doesn't deny that he's asked visitors to his blog to contact businesses that advertise with Zegel's newspaper.

"Stan runs a political tabloid with one thing in mind: to run roughshod over Winfield politics," Allen said.

Zegel denies Allen's claim that his newspaper is "the attack dog" of Winfield United, a group that has backed many successful political campaigns since it emerged in 2005.

While he called the districting proposal "a horrible idea," Zegel says that wasn't his motivation to bring back the biweekly publication.

Allen isn't buying it. He's predicting the paper will fold soon after the election.

If the publication fails, Zegel says it will be because of the boycott Allen organized. Zegel has run empty boxes on the pages of his past two editions -- signifying the businesses that pulled their ads.

"The only person around here who wants the paper to have a short life is Tim Allen," Zegel said. "He has poisoned the well with advertisers."

Despite the recent disputes, Trustee Jay Olson said the board itself has turned a corner.

"We have figured out how to be more productive," Olson said. "It just takes a little more effort than some of the past boards have had to deal with."

Trustee Reyes said he agrees that board members are "learning to play together."

"But we are very split," he said. "And when you have a split board, discussions can get very heated."

Reyes said he agrees with Allen that districting would bring peace to the village and allow the board to get more done.

"If you have representatives who are not controlled and are independent -- and can act on their own without being told what to do -- you are going to have a better board," he said.

That hasn't stopped Trustee Hughes from starting his own effort to convince voters to reject the districting question.

Hughes said it's about giving people more choices. If the village is split into districts, each voter will select one representative every four years. With the existing at-large system, voters pick three trustees every two years.

"Being a trustee myself, it's very clear that we're making decisions that affect all the citizens of Winfield," Hughes said. "It's such a small village that it just seems that you should get to vote for all six trustees."

If voters reject the districting question, Allen said he won't try to put it on the ballot again.

But then how do you stop the political fighting?

"You do it the only way you can," Allen said. "You sweep the election and take all the seats. You slate a group of candidates who all think one way for the next election. And then when they get on the board, everybody gets along."

Civility: If districting question rejected, trustee won't put it on ballot again

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