Winfield turmoil latest in a history of suburban feuds

Updated 3/4/2012 8:32 AM

I am sure the presence of a Daily Herald photographer and reporter had no bearing on how the members of the Winfield village board behaved Thursday night.

Compared to some of their previous meetings, including the one where an argument spawned a police complaint against a trustee, this was a veritable lovefest. ("Is this the Twilight Zone?" one attendee was overheard saying.)


Heck, they even seemed to agree to buck the trend of virtually every other suburb and allow video gambling in the community. Someone took a verbal swipe at Trustee Tim Allen, a lightning rod blogger and biggest thorn in the side of Village President Deb Birutis and Allen just took it without comment.

Given that and Birutis' call for civility late last year, I'd like to tell you that all is peaceful in the community of about 9,000. But Robert Sanchez's story in today's editions suggests otherwise. An email thread between Allen and Birutis is particularly telling.

Many years ago, as I struggled to write about the philosophical differences between warring factions within the Republican Party in Wheeling Township, a gruff editor of mine said something close to, "Oh, c'mon, Davis, they're just a bunch of people who don't much like each other."

Ah, words to live by. And, yes, in the history of Best Suburban Feuds, our warring factions always have found issues to argue about. In Winfield, it's whether the village should court more development along busy Roosevelt Road, but has somewhat morphed into a debate, perhaps to be settled in a March 20 referendum, on whether residents would be better served if their leaders were elected by geographic district. But the Allen-Birutis war of words and Allen's campaign to put local publisher Stan Zegel's recently revived Winfield Register out of business is the real dogfight.

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But Winfield has many worthy predecessors:

-- There were serious discussions about the safety of the citizenry, allegations of cloak-and-dagger behavior, in the debate on whether a closed Buffalo Grove landfill could be developed, but in the end it boiled down to all the people former Trustee Lisa Stone had rubbed the wrong way. In November, 2010 she became the rare suburban official to be turned out of office in a local recall vote. That wasn't the end of it. Then-Village President Elliott Hartstein donned a wig and mocked Stone the night of the vote, setting off a whole new round of tumult. And in a final bit of irony, the village board selected a chiropractor to replace Stone.

-- In Carpentersville, the issue at hand was a tough ordinance cracking down on illegal immigrants. But it turned into a test of wills between trustees and former Mayor William Sarto, who ardently fought the measure, which eventually died of its own weight. But YouTube videos of the scrappy Carpentersville meetings became legendary in some circles. Sarto lost his bid for re-election, but today is running for Kane County Board chairman in the Democratic primary. He reflected on his stormy tenure in Carpentersville to staff writer James Fuller: "Yeah, when people were shouting from the audience, I had them removed. And sometimes I tried to embarrass people. I used whatever techniques I thought were suitable for the situation. I was using whatever I could to get them to do the right thing."

There are many more examples, of course, but I see I'm running out of space. I predict the day will come when Winfield's political turbulence will abate. In fact, Tim Allen provides a theory on how that might happen: "You sweep the election and take all the seats. You slate a group of candidates who all think one way for the next election. And then when they get on the board, everybody gets along."

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