Buffalo Grove recall vote to make history

Buffalo Grove will make history on Tuesday, although perhaps not in a way it would prefer.

Tuesday's vote to recall Buffalo Grove Trustee Lisa Stone from office may or may not be a first in Illinois. No historian or state agency has been able to name another municipality that recalled an elected official, but since no agency keeps track, it's impossible to know for sure.

It is historic, nonetheless. With just days before the election, the evidence that Stone could be on her way out is mounting. The manager and honorary manager of her 2009 campaign for village board have publicly abandoned her. Signs urging recall are planted in front yards. A website, Facebook page and a blogger dedicated to recall are getting hits.

Stone, for her part, has not mounted a full-throated defense, except for frequent mentions of the recall referendum from her seat at village board meetings.

The recall, she says, is all part of a village plan to get rid of her an effort aided and abetted by village officials from the start.

She said she tells supporters “just vote and tell your friends to vote also. That's the extent of my campaigning.”

Yet she believes she will prevail. “I believe in my heart that people in this community know my heart's in the right place. I believe I'm going to win.”

So how did Stone go from winning a village board seat to being on the verge of being kicked out?

Stone's 2009 campaign website is a snapshot of happier times: a photo of the smiling candidate at her campaign rally, surrounded by a jovial campaign staff: Lake County Board member David Stolman, her honorary campaign chairman; Buffalo Grove Village President Elliott Hartstein; and retiring Trustee Brian Rubin, her campaign manager.

Her resume as a community activist is documented on the site as well, including her part in a successful effort to tighten restrictions on pit bulls and Rottweilers, leading to a national appearance on MSNBC.

But whatever initial support Stone had eroded as she clashed with the village board with increasing intensity, over everything from whether the board was doing enough about the region's heroin problem to whether it had ignored potential dangers at a nearby landfill.

It wasn't necessarily the issues themselves that caused friction. Stone's opponents would say it was the way she dealt with them _ her absolute refusal to back down or move on on any issue, and her practice of dragging village board meetings on for hours and hours as she pushed and pushed.

The meetings became near shouting matches at times, even sparking the village president to tell Stone to shut up after repeatedly saying her time to speak was over. Stone said he was simply trying to muzzle her. Nothing got resolved.

“I think the drama is terrible. It is a shame that there has to be a recall, because I would have hoped that she would have changed her ways,” Stolman said. “I think everybody has tried to assist her.”

“We are the laughing stock of Lake County,” he said. “That's wrong, and I can't tolerate that any more.”

The list of those Stone has upset includes village officials, employees and volunteers. Among the complaints:

- Stone has criticized fellow trustees, claiming they ignored the heroin issue.

- She uttered innuendos about a trustee's connection to a relative whose law firm did village business and implied a conflict in a plan commissioner's public comments related to the Land and Lakes landfill, since the commissioner worked for that same trustee's firm.

- Stone called attention to another trustee's child being employed by the village.

- She has consistently criticized Village Clerk Janet Sirabian, voting against her minutes and calling attention to a lost executive session tape.

- Stone's interruptions and refusal to stop talking when her allotted time is up has made it extremely difficult for Village President Hartstein to run village board meetings. Since her election, meetings can last close to or past midnight.

- Village officials say Stone has gone to outside agencies and officials on issues, while seeming to represent the entire board.

- Officials claim she has bullied village employees, in particular former Village Manager William Brimm.

- Stone's critics say she has cost the village needless time and money in Freedom of Information Act requests and legal fees, in particular the cost to handle her challenge of recall petitions, when the number of signatures challenged would not have thrown the measure off the ballot.

- Volunteers also have felt targeted. She raised questions about the Buffalo Grove Days Committee on such matters as cash handling procedures, food coupons for volunteers and the accounting of sponsorship dollars.

- Stone filed a police report after a former trustee bumped into her at a youth baseball game, claiming it was intentional and telling people she believed the former trustee “was looking for ways to hurt her.” She requested a special police watch on her home.

- She sued a poster to the Daily Herald website comment board by the nom de plume of “Hipcheck 16.”

But perhaps the coup de grace was Stone's relentless pursuit of information about the Land and Lakes landfill, which the village had considered buying for development but decided against. She took issue with the village not following up on a consultant's report that raised questions about possible contamination of groundwater.

Stone's side

Stone doesn't see herself as the problem. She says she is being persecuted because she is questioning areas the board would rather avoid, such as the potential problems posed by the Land and Lakes landfill.

“I won't tolerate BS and I'll stand up for what I know is truthful,” she said. “If that's a reason to remove someone from government, that's a very sad state of our government, that's a very sad message.”

And that's all the more reason why the village needs someone like her in office, she said.

Supporter Francis Ladonne said Stone is doing what an elected official should do _ “look out for the good and welfare of the residents to the best of her ability.”

When people bring issues to Stone's attention, she does the best she can to follow through, Ladonne said. “She is admittedly a little rough around the edges and perhaps a little unorthodox, but as I said, I think she is doing what I would expect an elected official to do.”

And if voters remove her from office, “in my opinion, they don't have an interest in fair and transparent and honest government,” Ladonne said.

Lincolnshire resident Brenda Weiss, who describes herself as an environmental activist, came to Stone's defense at a recent village board meeting.

She upbraided trustees for what she saw as rude treatment of Stone, saying that to minimize concerns about the Land and Lakes landfill does not negate their relevance.

Stone sees the recall as an effort to maintain status quo village government, without anyone meddling into their business. She said the recall group is closely tied into government. “Very many of them are involved in the various commissions. They're taking offense on behalf of the officials I'm questioning.”

Stone said voters need someone who will watch over the public safety _ the very reason she contacted Congressman Mark Kirk about the landfill.

“I'm pursuing something of substance,” she said. “The answer to all of this is, ‘Let's remove her from government. What she's doing is crazy. She doesn't know what she's talking about.'”

Stone said the fact that a home rule authority can pass such a recall ordinance is very dangerous “because you can have runaway boards.”

She sees herself as honest, forthright and direct.

But board members see her behavior as insulting and attacking.

Trustee Jeffrey Berman, who drafted the recall ordinance, cited Stone's relentless attacks on board members, village staff and even volunteers.

Rubin, her former backer, said he does not dislike Stone, but criticized her lack of decorum. Rubin said that when he served on the board with trustees he often disagreed with, “We would discuss it. We would agree to disagree and we would go across the street and have a beer.”

Rubin said Hartstein and the trustees have tolerated Stone and given her more room than they would the average human being.

Berman said he has no problem with trustees criticizing staff. He said he has done it during his entire tenure.

“But the difference is that I haven't accused them of being crooks and I haven't gone after them without basis and I haven't sat up and publicly humiliated people with little regard for who they are and what they are and the services they provide our community.”

Resident Stan Zoller is among those on the recall side. He has a blog called “Gaggin' in the Grove” that's been called required reading by some trustees and has a devoted following among recall supporters. Zoller, a Rolling Meadows High School teacher who once covered Buffalo Grove as a reporter, said, “It has been probably one of the most unusual performances I have seen by a village official.”

The man who filed the petition for her recall, David Wells, said, “Ultimately I think it comes down to gross incompetence. She comes to these board meetings very unprepared. She acts very unprofessional.”

So how does all of this play outside Buffalo Grove? Perhaps not as negatively as it might, were there not big problems elsewhere, says Cynthia Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

“Buffalo Grove, with this turmoil, may be benefiting from the fact that our entire state is in turmoil and our media is in turmoil,” so it hasn't been at the top of everyone's mind, she said.

However, she said, “It certainly isn't a good example to set in a community where you want new leaders and new blood and new ideas. That kind of animosity doesn't make local government look like the most inviting place in the world.”

Berman insists the board did not rush into recall. At first attempts were made to keep the entire board, not just Stone, disciplined, including the codification of a code of conduct. When the recall ordinance was drafted, it was meant as a warning to the board to be on its best behavior, he said. Months of fine tuning followed.

For Stone, the last episode of the reality TV show known as the Buffalo Grove village board could be Nov. 2, when voters will play the role of Donald Trump and decide whether she will be fired or survive for future episodes.

“I hope to win the recall because I think I'm really good at representing the people,” she said.

  Buffalo Grove Trustee Lisa Stone says she believes residents know her heart is in the right place and will reject attempts to remove her from office. BILL ZARS/
  Trustee Lisa Stone at a Buffalo Grove village board meeting. BILL ZARS/