Island Lake mayor to sue trustees over ‘power grabs’

Island Lake Mayor Debbie Herrmann says she’ll go to court to fight the village board’s continuing efforts to erode her powers.

Herrmann said she plans to sue four trustees — Donna O’Malley, Laurie Rabattini, John Ponio and Don Saville — to prevent them from modifying local ordinances that would, if changed, take away the mayor’s ability to appoint or fire personnel, particularly the police chief.

“There are enough real problems in this community that I want to solve without having to worry about trustee power grabs,” Herrmann said in a news release.

The lawsuit also will seek an injunction to stop the four trustees, who represent a majority of the six-member board, from dismissing its long-standing law firm and hiring a suburban law firm to represent the town.

Legal costs from the Ancel, Glink, Diamond, Bush, DiCianni & Krafthefer firm, which has represented the village for years, have been an ongoing point of contention at village board meetings.

At a special meeting Monday, the board voted 4-2 to dismiss Ancel Glink and hire Zukowski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle of Crystal Lake as its legal team.

That move was criticized on legal grounds at Monday’s meeting by Stewart H. Diamond, an Ancel Glink attorney. He insisted Illinois law empowers mayors — not village boards — to appoint legal counsel. He also said his firm was prepared to disregard the board’s vote and continue providing legal services.

And that’s how Herrmann is proceeding. She’s asked Ancel Glink to file the lawsuit against the board and the Zukowski law firm.

The lawsuit could be filed Friday in Lake County circuit court, Diamond told the Daily Herald on Wednesday. A hearing on the matter could be held Monday, he said.

On Thursday night, however, the village board will meet to discuss seizing control of how the police chief and other employees are hired or fired. The proposed ordinance, which Herrmann opposes, would remove the mayor from the procedure and give the board full hiring and firing power over the police chief.

Last year, Herrmann took a lot of heat for unilaterally demoting acting police Chief Anthony Sciarrone and naming William McCorkle as the new chief. McCorkle’s promotion from part-time officer to chief was approved by the board — but that was before O’Malley switched political allegiances.

Herrmann has been at odds with Ponio, Rabattini and Saville since she was elected in 2009. O’Malley, however, was a political ally of Herrmann until she recently began voting with Herrmann’s critics on several controversial issues, giving them a majority.

Along with Herrmann, McCorkle has been a favorite target of critics in Island Lake, particularly the mostly anonymous Internet users who habituate Rabattini’s blog.

Removing the mayor’s ability to hire and fire a police chief is illegal, Herrmann said. The four trustees targeted in the planned lawsuit need to be stopped “before their mischief (turns) into real harm,” she said in her news release.

The board’s actions this week follow similar steps the panel has investigated or taken against Herrmann.

Last month, the board debated a proposal that would formally allow any trustee to place items on a board meeting agenda without mayoral approval.

The board also voted in February to change how the village’s parks director is hired. Village codes had called for the director to be hired by the mayor with the advice and consent of the board; from now on, the board will hire the director and set the salary for the position.

Herrmann said it’s ironic the trustees who are pushing to reduce legal fees are taking action that will result in a potentially costly legal battle.

“Passing improper ordinances and trying to hire a second attorney is a strange way for them to show their passion for economical government,” Herrmann said.

O’Malley rejected that accusation.

“If the mayor deems it necessary to use the taxpayers’ money (on) a lawsuit, it is she that will have to live with that decision,” O’Malley said in an e-mail.

Rabattini defended the trustees’ plans and said she will “continue to fight.”

“Four trustees have chosen to make these changes, and the state of Illinois has given us these powers, and we are exercising those powers,” she said in an e-mail. “We are the majority of the village board, and we wish that the mayor would recognize that.”

Ponio declined to comment on the mayor’s threatened lawsuit, saying he wasn’t aware of it.

Saville could not be reached for comment.

Thursday’s board meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. at village hall, 3720 Greenleaf Ave.