Mayor, trustees tussle over law firm

In its latest power tussle with Mayor Debbie Herrmann, the Island Lake village board has moved to oust her preferred law firm and hand pick a new firm to represent the village.

At a special meeting Monday, a split board voted to remove Ancel, Glink, Diamond, Bush, DiCianni & Krafthefer and halt unauthorized future payments to the Chicago firm. Trustees voted to hire David McArdle as village attorney and ordered all legal files turned over to his Crystal Lake firm, Zukowski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle.

Stewart H. Diamond, an Ancel Glink attorney, told trustees Illinois law empowers mayors — not village boards — to appoint legal counsel. In a memo, he said his firm was prepared to disregard the board’s vote and continue providing legal services.

“We’re happy to talk about criticism or reducing fees,” Diamond said. But he called the proposal an ill-conceived “waste of time” and “waste of money,” and urged Herrmann to veto the measures or consider legal action.

“If you act on these items tonight,” Diamond said, “I think it will simply result in more legal fees.”

Asked for comment after the meeting, Herrmann said she preferred to “refrain and gather my thoughts.”

The meeting unfolded in a series of 4-2 votes, as trustees Don Saville, John Ponio, Donna O’Malley, and Laurie Rabattini voted to switch firms. Trustees Connie Mascillino and Don Verciglio were opposed.

Critics of Ancel Glink point to tens of thousands of dollars in recent bills from the firm to argue that village legal fees have spiraled out of control.

In 2010, the firm billed the village $235,846 for legal services, according to documents acquired by the Daily Herald through the Freedom of Information Act. In 2009, the firm billed the village $217,987 for legal services, documents show.

Saville contended poor legal advice, in some instances, has had costly consequences.

For example, he said, an attorney for the firm once advised the village board it was within its rights to demote two public works employees, only to advise later that the board pay the workers to settle a related grievance they filed.

“They do not represent Island Lake or its trustees in a manner that’s good for the village,” Saville said.

Ancel Glink has represented Island Lake in several lawsuits, an investigation into a former police chief, criminal cases against ex-Mayor Tom Hyde and his wife, village employee Sharon Hyde, among other matters. The firm was appointed by a previous mayor.

Some blame village department heads and Herrmann for excessively seeking legal advice and racking up expensive bills.

However, Mascillino said she reviewed seven months of legal bills, including $36,241 in January, and found the vast majority resulted from run-of-the-mill legal necessities such as tax-assessment appeals, union negotiations, a lawsuit, and zoning and development matters.

Verciglio expressed concern Island Lake would now gain a reputation for not paying its bills. Saying he received a memo regarding McArdle’s firm only hours before the vote, Verciglio asked how his colleagues had settled on the new firm.

Saville said he met McArdle in 2007 and had stayed in touch. Rabattini, who has been in talks with McArdle recently, said no alternative firms were considered. McArdle was hired at $160 an hour. Diamond said that was $10 cheaper than his firm’s rate.

“It would be sad if the mayor chose to go against four trustees and sue her own board,” Rabattini said at the close of the meeting.