Libraries are supposed to be quiet places and campaigns for library board seats are supposed to be low-key, too.
But this spring's race for five seats on the Carol Stream Public Library board has developed into one of the area's most contentious political battles, with 10 candidates representing two slates that each have very different visions for the library's future.
The library has been in the headlines for much of the past eight months, ever since a new majority on the board of trustees took power. In that time, the new-look board fired the library director, put up for sale a 7.5-acre property once intended for a new library, and censured a fellow board member. Tensions have run high at board meetings -- sometimes with routine discussions leading to heated verbal exchanges.
Village President Frank Saverino says in a community recognized by Money Magazine as one of the best small towns in the country, the controversy surrounding the library board has become "an embarrassment."
"They've made fodder of themselves is what they've done," Saverino said. "When it comes down to it, they're making Carol Stream look bad when they're all fighting with each other. They all have to get together and figure out what the people want."
Now comes the April 9 election, where voters will get their say. The winners will wrest control of the board for the next several years and largely determine the direction the library takes for the 39,000 residents it serves.
Shift to the right
Last April, the library board was looking to appoint new members to fill the vacancies of two longtime trustees who resigned -- Rob Douglas, the board president who was appointed as a DuPage County circuit court judge, and Tom Arends, who moved to Chicago and was often considered a swing vote on the already divided board.
A total of 12 candidates interviewed with the remaining board members during three closed-session meetings. When the board took a vote in open session to appoint Jerry Clark and Susan Galle it was unanimous, though meeting minutes show there was disagreement among the trustees behind closed doors.
With their appointment, the philosophical alignment of the board changed markedly. Mike Wade, a trustee since 2009 and longtime opponent of former Library Director Ann Kennedy's plans to build a new library, first met Galle and Clark in his role as organizer of the Chicago West Patriots Tea Party. Two other trustees elected in 2011, David DeRango and Dominick Jeffrey, previously ran on the same slate with Wade, in opposition to what they said were high library taxes and improper spending by Kennedy.
On July 18, Wade proposed Kennedy's firing during a two-hour, closed-door board meeting. Trustees later voted 3-1 in open session to dismiss Kennedy, but the tally was one vote short, according to library bylaws. The following week, residents -- mostly Kennedy supporters -- filled the board room before trustees voted a second time for her dismissal -- this time by a 4-2 margin.
Wade has declined to publicly say why he proposed Kennedy's firing, but a four-page document he distributed to trustees that was later obtained by the Daily Herald listed several "issues of communication with the board" since 2009.
Kennedy is now one of the forces behind the Support the Library slate, which features incumbent Jim Bailey and newcomers Edward Jourdan, Nadia Sheikh, Bonita Gilliam and Patricia Johnson. They are running against Wade's Support Your Library slate, which features Wade, Clark, Galle, Justin Moran and Joshua Jeffrey, the son of Dominick Jeffrey.
Bailey is facing Joshua Jeffrey in a head-to-head race for a 2-year seat; the other candidates are running for four-year terms.
Longtime Trustee Mary Hudspeath, a Kennedy supporter and one-time advocate of a new library, is stepping down after 10 years. DeRango and Jeffrey's terms expire in 2015.
Kennedy says she's serving in an advisory capacity to the STL group, whose campaign literature vows to "restore ethics, integrity and fiscal responsibility" to the library board.
Kennedy, who has been involved for years in the Carol Stream Rotary Club and Carol Stream Chamber of Commerce, said people she knows are "appalled at what happened in July," but she believes the task at hand for the slate is getting the word out to an electorate that is historically apathetic to library board elections.
She says she's hopeful the slate can change that attitude.
"Last national election, the Tea Party got whacked really well," Kennedy said. "I think people are tired of their heavy-handed right-wing rhetoric."
Dominick Jeffrey, who helped collect nominating petitions for the other slate, said he believes his team's philosophy is based on Republican principles, and the other's on Democratic principles. And he believes if the STL group is elected, it will push for a fourth referendum to build a new library -- after voters previously rejected the first three -- and will "inflate" the annual budget.
"These people are all Democrats to the bone," Jeffrey said. "They think they're all entitled to something."
Bailey said two-thirds of those supporting his slate are Republicans. Its list of endorsements includes village trustees Matt McCarthy and Pam Fenner, as well as Laura Pollastrini, a former library board trustee and local Tea Party activist who doesn't belong to Wade's group.
"There was no politics on our board before," Bailey said. "We were board members doing the business of the library. Once Wade got onto the board and started this negative Ann Kennedy (stuff) -- now all they do is fight and nitpick and try to micromanage."
Dominick Jeffrey said Bailey "rubber-stamped" anything Kennedy wanted.
"If Mr. Bailey had an idea of his own, he'd have died of loneliness years ago," Jeffrey said. "He thinks she (Kennedy) is Mother Teresa."
Wade's slate is being endorsed by Arends. Jeffrey also said Saverino, a Republican, "supports us completely."
Bailey, meanwhile, called Jeffrey "an empty suit" whose contribution after two years on the board has been "to stay awake at meetings."
"His claim to fame is that he goes to the same church with the mayor and the mayor is on his speed dial," Bailey said. "The mayor has been communicating to us they want him out."
Saverino said he isn't endorsing either side.
Wade, who is the library board president, said the two slates have different philosophies: "five candidates who want to build a new library and five candidates who don't."
Since there's been a new board majority, Wade said trustees have demonstrated fiscal responsibility by putting the vacant Kuhn Road property up for sale, pushing to get state and county tax exemptions on the land, and moving $2 million from a noninterest-bearing account to an interest -bearing account.
He also said Bailey "doesn't mind raising taxes," citing statements Bailey made at a recent human resources committee meeting that it would be OK to raise taxes to pay for salary increases for library staff.
"When I got on the board, he voted to raise taxes when the library had over 39 months of reserves," Wade said. "He's ignored the economic conditions on our citizens. I think about what this economy is doing to the citizens of Carol Stream. I worry about taxing bodies raising taxes at a time where they can't afford it."
Bailey said Wade's group is spreading "a rumor, myth and lie" about the STL slate pushing for another library building referendum. He said he would support a new library, but right now the community wouldn't support a referendum on the question because "times are too hard."
Sheikh, who is making her second run for library board, said the differences between the slates is that hers is the "pro- library slate, and their slate is the no-library slate."
"We are out there actively advocating for our library," she said.
Campaign literature from Wade's slate and statements on its website primarily take aim at Bailey, the only incumbent on the opposing side.
Bailey was censured by the current board on a 5-2 vote in January for what Wade says was making untruthful statements, abusive behavior, not letting other trustees speak, and threatening the board president.
Bailey said the censure was "all about them trying to win an election."
"I seem to be their only platform item: Get rid of Jim Bailey because he's the anti-Christ," Bailey said.
Hudspeath, Bailey's ally on the board, has taken exception to the censure resolution which had been tabled in October, but was reintroduced three months later after Bailey was quoted in a Jan. 9 Daily Herald article. In it, he called former library employee Elaine Wierdak -- the longtime girlfriend of Dominick Jeffrey -- "a patsy" who wasn't "smart enough" to have filed objections to the candidate nominating petitions of the STL slate. The censure resolution passed in January doesn't mention the Daily Herald article.
"They have the votes and I don't," Bailey said. "They know I have a temper and will call a spade a spade."
Wade said the censure wasn't a political issue.
"When a trustee doesn't allow other trustees to talk at meetings, that's inappropriate," Wade said. "His censure was only rooted in the violation of bylaws and 'Robert's Rules of Order.'"