Des Plaines aldermen question appointments for prosecutor, hearing officer

Updated 7/4/2014 9:09 AM

A Des Plaines city council committee wants the city's administrative hearing officer and prosecuting attorney, hired to handle local ordinance violations, to stay the same, while the mayor and city manager are seeking new appointees for the roles.

Like many suburbs, Des Plaines handles prosecution of smaller ordinance violations -- such as parking and red-light tickets, unpaid utility bills and underage drinking violations -- during hearings at city hall. Before 2002, cases were sent to the Cook County courthouse in Skokie. Bringing the cases in-house has allowed the city to retain additional revenue from fines.

The prosecuting attorney, appointed by the city manager, represents the city during the hearings. Since 2002, Ray Bartel, a former assistant city attorney, has served in that role.

The hearing officer, appointed by the mayor, serves as a neutral party to determine guilt or innocence. Since 2011, Chris Cohen has served in that role.

Both of their contracts expired at the end of 2013.

In May, Mayor Matt Bogusz recommended the appointment of David Eterno as the new hearing officer. City Manager Mike Bartholomew recommended two firms, Addis Greenberg and Berg, Berg & Pandev, become the new prosecuting attorneys.

The city council can approve or reject those appointments. Aldermen in May referred the issue to the legal and licensing committee, which met Wednesday and recommended Bartel and Cohen be retained.

Aldermen questioned the process to find replacements.

Fifth Ward Alderman Jim Brookman, the committee chairman, said the $13,157 cost to conduct a request for proposals process, which has included legal fees for interviews with candidates, was "exorbitant."

He also questioned why Eterno, Bogusz's selection for hearing officer, does not carry malpractice insurance.

Peter Friedman, the city's general counsel, said insurance isn't needed because a hearing officer has judicial immunity, but Brookman said it was something that would give the city greater protection.

Fourth Ward Alderman Dick Sayad and Brookman also questioned how the request for proposals was put together and whether favoritism was shown, leading to a heated exchange between Friedman and Brookman.

Bogusz wasn't at the committee meeting Wednesday but said at a May 5 council meeting that he was impressed by Eterno's references and background, having worked as a hearing officer in multiple towns and counties across the region.

"He can bring a perspective that hopefully streamlines our process and gets staff moving so that not so much of their time is monopolized here in council chamber," Bogusz said.

On Thursday, Bogusz said he will wait for the committee to formally report its recommendation at an upcoming council meeting, then will take their recommendation under advisement.

It wasn't clear when the city council would take a formal vote on the mayor and city manager's appointments.

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