Should Des Plaines pay alderman's legal bills? Ordinance says maybe
Some Des Plaines aldermen are calling for a closer examination of a city ordinance that allows for the city to pay the legal bills of elected officials who are sued.
The question is whether the city would pay for Alderman Dick Sayad's legal fees -- or provide him an attorney -- when he goes to court next month on criminal trespassing charges.
At least two aldermen, Jim Brookman and Patti Haugeberg, believe the city should pay for Sayad's defense, as Sayad says he was acting in his official capacity as alderman when he entered a private home in his ward without invitation on Feb. 25.
One alderman, Don Smith, is opposed, and others are on the fence, based on interviews conducted Tuesday.
Mayor Matt Bogusz declined to weigh in on the issue.
The ordinance, passed in 1988, states that lawsuits filed against elected city officials "in their capacity as employees or agents of the city shall be defended by the city. Any judgments or expenses resulting therefrom shall be paid by the city unless a determination or finding is made that the elected or appointed official acted outside the scope of his position."
The case against Sayad is not a lawsuit but a criminal charge. Further complicating matters is that officials are unclear whether the city council makes the determination if the city will pay.
City General Counsel Peter Friedman did not respond Tuesday to a request for his legal opinion, and City Manager Mike Bartholomew said only it's yet to be determined.
"Within our ordinance there is some question as to what extent the city would defend against this sort of thing," Bartholomew said.
Sayad is scheduled to appear for a hearing at the Skokie courthouse April 10.
The alderman has said that at about 6:15 p.m. on Feb. 25 he went to a house on the 400 block of Harvey Avenue to discuss a ticket the homeowners had gotten for not clearing a public sidewalk. He knocked on the back door and when no one answered, looked in a window and saw a staircase going up.
Thinking the house had been divided into apartments, he said, he opened the unlocked door and walked up the stairs, where he met resident Dave Uhrich in an upstairs music studio.
Both parties say Sayad left when he was asked to leave. The residents called police, and Sayad waited outside the house for them to come.
The residents pressed the trespassing charge Feb. 27, two days after the incident.
Sayad declined to say Tuesday whether he's asked city lawyers to represent him.
Brookman, meanwhile, said he will review the 1988 ordinance and push for it to be "improved, modified and clarified," so there isn't any question about whether the city should defend an elected official.
Brookman, the 5th Ward alderman, believes Sayad was acting in his capacity as an alderman "with good intent to serve the residents of his ward."
"The city should supply him with legal representation," Brookman said. "It's obvious there was no criminal intent. He went there to help solve a problem."
Third Ward Alderman Denise Rodd said she hopes the council will discuss the issue again during a closed session meeting March 16. She said she doesn't know whether the city should be responsible for Sayad's legal fees.
"According to code, we should if he acted within the scope of his responsibilities as an alderman," Rodd said. "According to code, we shouldn't if he crossed the line and acted outside the scope of his responsibilities."
Haugeberg, the 1st Ward alderman, agrees with Brookman. Eighth Ward Alderman Mike Charewicz said he thinks the city council should take its cue from the courts, to decide whether Sayad was acting within the scope of his position.
Smith, the 7th Ward alderman, was the only council member to declare Tuesday that the city shouldn't be involved in Sayad's case.
"It's something Alderman Sayad needs to address on his own, privately," Smith said.
Brookman, Haugeberg and 6th Ward Alderman Mark Walsten said they believe the filing of charges against Sayad was politically motivated. Sayad is running for re-election April 7 against Mark Setzer, who is backed by Bogusz.
A Feb. 25 post on the mayor's Facebook page by Alicia Carlile, the fiance of Dave Uhrich, asks, "Mr. Bogusz, we would like to assist Mr. Setzer with his campaign. How can we do that?" The post was recorded at 8 p.m. Feb. 25, less than two hours after the incident with Sayad at her home.
Carlile said she spoke with Setzer the following morning, and that it was the first time she ever had talked with him.
Still, on Tuesday, Carlile said she hasn't decided who she is supporting in the election.
"There's no political motivation," Carlile said. "I did not send an ESP to Dick Sayad to enter my home."