Island Lake mayor sues trustees in ongoing power struggle

Island Lake Mayor Debbie Herrmann on Tuesday filed a lawsuit to fight the village board’s continuing efforts to erode her powers.

Herrmann is seeking an injunction against four trustees — Donna O’Malley, Laurie Rabattini, John Ponio and Don Saville — to prevent them from hiring a new law firm.

The lawsuit, filed in Lake County circuit court, also seeks to stop the board from eroding Herrmann’s ability to hire and fire personnel, specifically the police chief.

“It is with great reluctance that I have filed this lawsuit, but the actions of the board of trustees are invalid and would seriously disrupt the operations of the village,” Herrmann said in a statement Tuesday. “The legislative body in the village has decided that it also needs to be the executive.”

It’s unclear when a hearing on the injunction could be held.

Herrmann said removing the mayor’s power to hire and fire a police chief is illegal. She cited a 1976 case involving the village of Westmont as precedent.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled against the trustees in the Westmont case.

“I filed the lawsuit against the four trustees and the attorney they have chosen because this is the method successfully followed by the then-mayor of Westmont,” Herrmann said. “The actions of the board of trustees are invalid and would seriously disrupt the operations of the village.”

Herrmann and the village’s longtime law firm also have said it’s up to the mayor to choose the town’s legal representation, not the village board.

Herrmann has been involved in a power struggle with the four trustees for a few months, ever since O’Malley stopped supporting the mayor and joined the other trustees on key votes.

Rabattini defended the trustees’ actions to limit Herrmann’s powers, which stemmed from concerns about high legal fees and objections to how a previous police chief was demoted and the current one was hired.

“In order to protect the village and the taxpayers of Island Lake, the majority of this board has decided to take action,” Rabattini said in an e-mail. “(Herrmann) is suing her own village versus trying to sit down and work something out. She wants to maintain absolute control.”

Saville was aware of the lawsuit but declined to comment at any length about it.

“Nothing surprises me,” he said.

Ponio declined to comment. O’Malley also declined to comment late Tuesday afternoon, saying she didn’t know the content of the suit.

Ÿ Daily Herald staff writer Russell Lissau contributed to this report.

Don Saville
John Ponio
Donna O’Malley
Debbie Herrmann