Money wasted on dueling lawyers
The political infighting that has overtaken the Island Lake village board in recent years has served mostly as a lesson in ineffective local government. Leaders in other towns should take note, lest they be tempted to allow personal passions to draw them down a similar path.
The Island Lake tragicomedy, with its bad behavior and gridlock, plays out a couple of Thursdays each month for all to see. Now you can add wasting money to the list of sins committed by this village board.
Early this year, an ongoing effort by a new board majority to strip Mayor Debbie Herrmann of her powers, including those to hire and fire the village attorney, led to the hiring of a second village attorney this spring. And, yes, you know where this is going -- a second set of legal bills.
To date, this village of 8,080 residents has already amassed more than $221,244 in legal bills -- nearly what it paid for legal services in all of 2010 and more than the tab in 2009.
A recent Daily Herald analysis showed the village's monthly legal costs are far greater than those of many other Lake County communities.
Trustees on both sides of the divide realize there is a problem, but neither will budge, though the April election brought the hope of new avowedly unaligned trustees. Still, even an effort at mediation to help resolve some of the differences between the factions stalled last week. The reason? The attorney for one side refused to pay a fee requested by the mediator.
So the stalemate continues and the bills -- ranging from standard legal expenses to the costs of a lawsuit filed by the mayor against some current and former trustees -- continue to mount. Many of the bills have been pulled from the list of debts and not brought up for a vote, so they haven't been paid. But that can't go on forever -- sooner or later the lawyers are going to want their money.
It has the attention of at least one board member -- Trustee Shannon Fox, who was elected in April and joined the board in May.
"I find it to be astounding and completely irresponsible for (the mayor and board) to have allowed these types of expenses to occur and not keep them in check," she told the Daily Herald's Russell Lissau. Money that will be used to pay the bills could instead be funding important community programs, she said.
"To risk loss of services for what I consider to be frivolous expenditures is not the job that we were elected to do," Fox said.
We hope this means Fox and the other new trustees, Thea Morris and Chuck Cermak, will step up and take the lead role in being the adults on this board to get its house back in order. A good place to start is to not use taxpayer-funded lawyers to settle personal and political scores.
The meter is running, folks.