Despite call for civility, Winfield still boils over
A few months after Village President Deborah Birutis called for a return to respect and civility, politics in Winfield continues to be as vicious as ever.
Birutis recently engaged in a bitter email exchange with Trustee Tim Allen, who suggested the first-term leader resign -- or face certain defeat in 2013.
Meanwhile, Allen and the local blog he operates is in a war of words against a newly revived newspaper published by Stan Zegel, a former trustee and frequent Allen critic. Zegel claims Allen is trying to kill The Winfield Register by organizing a boycott of businesses advertising in the paper.
Birutis sides with Zegel in the matter.
"When somebody personally threatens you and tries to shut down a paper that doesn't agree with his views, it's just unacceptable," Birutis said. "I can't get along with somebody who acts in that manner."
But Allen blames Birutis' leadership style for making it difficult for divided village board members to find common ground. "She makes everything a miserable slog," he said.
When it comes to the Register, Allen charges that Zegel resurrected the newspaper last month solely to defeat a March 20 ballot question calling for trustees to be elected from six districts instead of at-large.
Allen, who organized a petition drive to get the districting question before the voters, said he believes it's the best way to bring peace to the town.
"Winfield is broken," Allen said. "There's this whipsaw effect between the anti-development crowd and the pro-development crowd. We sweep each other in and out of office. It leaves Winfield stagnant."
The last shake-up on the village board happened last spring when trustees Allen, Tony Reyes and James Hughes were elected. Trustee Erik Spande was appointed by Birutis to the board immediately after that election.
There have since been heated debates as to whether Winfield should push for commercial development along busy Roosevelt Road. Unlike in other nearby towns, the Winfield stretch of Roosevelt is mostly surrounded by trees and natural growth.
Allen and Reyes say developing Roosevelt should be a priority because it could enhance village revenue. But opponents say that would cause the town to lose a lot of its character.
"Do we as a village decide that we're going to make money by commercializing Roosevelt Road or not?" Allen said. "She (Birutis) is definitely on the 'no' side, and I am definitely on the 'yes' side. And the closer we come to having to make this decision, the more vicious both sides get."
Their differing views on Roosevelt Road bubbled over in a recent email exchange.
Allen told Birutis he has a coalition that wants development on Roosevelt -- and that any efforts to stop them will only work for "a little while." He then suggested she resign.
"You are going to lose," Allen wrote. "It's just a matter of time. What is gained by waiting until 2013?"
Birutis said she won't be stepping down before the end of her term.
"I'm trying to bring civility back to this board," she said. "Public officials have a duty to be civil and respectful to one another, municipal employees, business owners and our residents. And I am horrified when a trustee behaves improperly."
Allen makes no excuses for his emails to Birutis. He also doesn't deny that he's asked visitors to his blog to contact businesses that advertise with Zegel's newspaper.
"Stan runs a political tabloid with one thing in mind: to run roughshod over Winfield politics," Allen said.
Zegel denies Allen's claim that his newspaper is "the attack dog" of Winfield United, a group that has backed many successful political campaigns since it emerged in 2005.
While he called the districting proposal "a horrible idea," Zegel says that wasn't his motivation to bring back the biweekly publication.
Allen isn't buying it. He's predicting the paper will fold soon after the election.
If the publication fails, Zegel says it will be because of the boycott Allen organized. Zegel has run empty boxes on the pages of his past two editions -- signifying the businesses that pulled their ads.
"The only person around here who wants the paper to have a short life is Tim Allen," Zegel said. "He has poisoned the well with advertisers."
Despite the recent disputes, Trustee Jay Olson said the board itself has turned a corner.
"We have figured out how to be more productive," Olson said. "It just takes a little more effort than some of the past boards have had to deal with."
Trustee Reyes said he agrees that board members are "learning to play together."
"But we are very split," he said. "And when you have a split board, discussions can get very heated."
Reyes said he agrees with Allen that districting would bring peace to the village and allow the board to get more done.
"If you have representatives who are not controlled and are independent -- and can act on their own without being told what to do -- you are going to have a better board," he said.
That hasn't stopped Trustee Hughes from starting his own effort to convince voters to reject the districting question.
Hughes said it's about giving people more choices. If the village is split into districts, each voter will select one representative every four years. With the existing at-large system, voters pick three trustees every two years.
"Being a trustee myself, it's very clear that we're making decisions that affect all the citizens of Winfield," Hughes said. "It's such a small village that it just seems that you should get to vote for all six trustees."
If voters reject the districting question, Allen said he won't try to put it on the ballot again.
But then how do you stop the political fighting?
"You do it the only way you can," Allen said. "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."
Civility: If districting question rejected, trustee won't put it on ballot again
Feud highlightsExcerpts from email exchanges between Winfield Village President Deborah Birutis and Trustee Tim Allen demonstrate continuing problems with the political climate in the village.
From Winfield Village Manager Curt Barrett to Birutis on Jan. 27:
"Tim stopped in this morning looking for you to express his great consternation regarding your call to the County Board Chairman to share concerns over Chris Levan's potential appointment to the County Board. Tim shared that he became a Republican Committeeman this past summer, which is like a fraternity that sticks together, and loves Chris Levan. Tim wanted you to know the committeemen view messing with one of them as messing with them all, and it will be addressed accordingly. Tim stated he has become a committeeman to make connections and help Winfield, and thinks your call to the Chairman hurt Winfield. He wanted this conveyed to you and I have copied him in case he wants to add anything."
Allen to Birutis on Jan 27:
"This is a fair representation of my conversation with the village manager this morning. I would liked to have had it with you but you were not in this morning and I believe it is a message best delivered face to face.
"If you would like to discuss it further I am available around your schedule."
Birutis to Allen on Jan. 29:
"Are you threatening me?"
Allen to Birutis on Jan. 29:
"What is this Deb? The playground?
"I am telling you that you just (upset) a boat load of people who were all working very hard to place a Winfield resident in a position that could be very helpful to Winfield.
"By doing so, all those people want to now harm you in a political sense. The collateral damage is that they harm you by harming Winfield.
"Thanks a lot for that. As if Winfield didn't have enough head winds to buck.
"I don't get it. Everybody says you aren't running again. If you do, you would get crushed even in a contest against Rudy (Czech, former village president). With 1 year left on your term what are you doing with your time? How hopeless of a mission to stave off Roosevelt Road development for one year before you are swept out of office and it all changes anyway. If you were smart about it you would take the intervening year to move so the development wasn't in your back yard.
"You are selfish and you have been harmful to Winfield. You don't seem to learn from your mistakes. I thought Winfield leadership couldn't get worse. I was wrong.
"I want you to know I have not grown tired of this. With every day my determination grows. I will not stop until Winfield does the adult thing and makes sustainable revenues. The most logical place for that is Roosevelt Road. You should have thought about that before you bought your house.
"In 12 short months you will be out of a job. Winfield will be 4 years older with nothing to show for your time at the helm. Everything you worked so hard at preventing will happen anyway."
Birutis to Allen on Feb. 1:
"So, you have threatened me and now you are threatening the value of my property.
The truth comes spilling out. Your campaign to commercialize Roosevelt Road has little to do with building sustainable revenue. It is about political REVENGE. Otherwise, why would you not be equally obsessed with commercializing all areas of Winfield?
"As for your threats, I do take them very seriously. While serving the village my family has received obscene and threatening phone calls. My property has been damaged.
"No, this is not a playground nor a game as you claim politics is.
"To the Village Board, I ask: How can you allow this type of behavior to continue?"
Allen to Birutis on Feb. 1:
"Sigh. Whatever ...
"Debbie, it's clear you are unhappy. It's also clear that we have built a coalition that wants development and they are interested in working on Roosevelt Road. You can try to stop us but it will only work for a little while. Stalling the expansion of the vision of the EDTF is a perfect example. It may have taken 4 meetings but I will have what I want. After that we do the Marathon & Fire Station. After that we revise the Comprehensive plan. Then we start changing zoning. Then we start making sustainable revenues.
"Madam President, your entire career as a politician revolves around stopping this, and it will happen anyway. How sad. Moving would have been a less emotional option. I am really sorry. This isn't about revenge. It's about the 10% of this town that is unemployed and the 30% that is scraping by. It's about how you would selfishly raise the taxes of 10,000 residents to prevent 11 houses on Normandy Lane from having something distasteful in their backyards. It's about the road referendum that you would prefer to tax rather than earning the money through commercial development.
"This isn't some epic struggle between your ego and my ego. It's an epic struggle between my core values and yours. I am going to win this because my core values are to protect 10,000 tax payers and your core values are selfishly protecting Normandy Lane. You love to talk about how this is some kind of game to me. Let me be very clear; Life is a game. There are those that play it well and those that play it badly but everybody plays. I
have strategies for winning. I create
and execute them daily. It has made
me successful in business and it will make me successful in politics. Currently my strategies are outflanking yours.
"Word on the street is that you would like to quit being the president.
Jay Olson would make a fine president and it wouldn't traumatize the village staff too much. Tell the village that you need to take care of your family and you are resigning. We will all say how sad we are to see you go. I will be silent on 411 (blog) and I will make sure all the commenters are too.
"You are going to lose. It's just a matter of time. What is gained by waiting until 2013?"
Birutis to Allen on Feb. 7:
"Nope, sorry, I am not resigning. I was elected to serve the residents of Winfield. That is what I will continue to do.
"If you actually had core values you wouldn't threaten people and lie about them if their viewpoint differs from yours. Honestly, integrity and civility to others are my core values."