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posted: 1/7/2014 5:00 AM

Editorial: Island Lake's promise to cut legal costs

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

We've used this space many times in recent years to take Island Lake village leaders to the proverbial woodshed over a variety of issues that could be considered among the hobgoblins of bad government. Lack of transparency, gridlock caused by infighting, the retribution of power politics and incivility are some of the topics that have caught our attention.

Rough-and-tumble politics and disagreement amid robust discussion of important issues aren't bad when they create strong and fair leadership and well-thought decisions that are in the best interests of a community. That hasn't been the case in Island Lake, where the village board has been best known for bad behavior.

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But today we're pleased to adopt a different tone. We congratulate village officials on a positive change that is saving money we hope can be used to pay for much-needed improvements to roads, sidewalks and parks.

Mayor Charles Amrich has honored a promise he made during last year's campaign to reduce the staggeringly high legal bills that have taken a huge bite out of the village budget for about four years. In the first seven months of his term, the Amrich-led board has legal bills that have averaged $16,182 per month, or about half of the $32,147 average during the preceding seven months.

A change in law firms and an effort by the village board and staff to be more conscientious about when they call or meet with their lawyers is behind the reduction, Amrich said.

"I don't think you need to run to the attorney every five minutes when something comes up," he told the Daily Herald's Russell Lissau. "There are some things you can do in-house."

Island Lake has spent more than $1 million on legal bills since 2009, most of it during a tumultuous period when the village board was led by then-Mayor Debbie Herrmann. The meter was humming as Herrmann filed a lawsuit against opposition trustees trying to strip her of some of her elected powers, among other issues, and during a time when two law firms represented the divided board and filed separate bills.

Legal bills peaked at $434,800 in 2011, followed by $348,072 in 2012.

That's considerably more than several similarly sized villages spent on the same expense. For example, Lincolnshire averages about $12,000 in legal bills each month, or about $150,000 a year. Vernon Hills, a much larger community, pays its lawyers about $27,400 per month or about $328,800 annually.

Island Lake officials now say they want to cut legal bills even more.

That's ambitious, and Amrich and other village officials should be prudent in the process, lest they cause other legal problems that a few minutes with a lawyer on a critical issue might otherwise avoid. Still, we like this kind of thinking and call on other suburban leaders to examine their legal bills and similarly look for ways to trim those costs.

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