It took more than a year and a lengthy legal fight, but officials in four DuPage County communities now know who was behind a failed push to merge Lisle, Woodridge and Warrenville with Naperville.
Court records released this week in Will County show Dave Nelson, a former candidate for Lisle village clerk who ran on a slate with the current mayor and two trustees, was the key proponent of a plan to place referendum questions concerning the proposed mergers on spring 2017 ballots.
Court records show Nelson was working on behalf of his minor child.
The revelation is sparking questions about whether Nelson's political allies were involved in the merger push, which long was shrouded in mystery. Some village board members also are raising questions about why some of Nelson's allies who were elected to village posts are considering replacing the village's legal counsel, suggesting it may be retribution for the firm's work in uncovering Nelson's secret.
Nelson denied any connection to the merger plan when he was running for village clerk last spring. He told the Daily Herald at the time that neither he nor any members of his slate were involved.
He admitted to discussing a possible merger with Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico the previous fall but said he later viewed it as a "bad idea."
He said he promised not to reveal the identities of those behind the push but insisted they were "acting on their own."
Petitions to put the annexation questions on the 2017 ballot were filed in both DuPage and Will county courts by a Chicago attorney, Frank Avila, who refused to say who had hired him.
The courts rejected the petitions in Warrenville and Woodridge because they didn't have enough signatures and the petitions in Lisle because of procedural problems.
Mayors in all three of those towns, as well as Naperville, actively opposed the mergers, saying combining towns would be costly and complicated and would likely affect other units of government and the way services are delivered.
Nelson ended up losing the village clerk's race last April to Kim Brondyke.
But three other members of his Prosperity for Lisle slate -- Chris Pecak, Marie Hasse and Kelly Dixit -- were victorious. Hasse and Dixit were elected to trustee seats on the six-member village board, and Pecak upset longtime incumbent Joe Broda to become mayor.
On Monday, Pecak, Hasse and Dixit found themselves on the hot seat when some trustees questioned them about what role, if any, they had in Nelson's scheme.
Trustee Mark Boyle said Lisle's lawyers represented the village in the Will County court case to learn who was behind the referendum petitions. He also talked about the court documents that said Nelson was the principal proponent.
Boyle then asked Pecak, Hasse and Dixit if they were aware their party was promoting a petition to annex Lisle and the other towns to Naperville.
"It may be possible that one of your ticket members acted alone," Boyle said. "But wouldn't you know this? Why would you be involved with someone who wants to sabotage your civic duties?"
The Prosperity for Lisle slate said before the election that it opposed annexation.
"I'm not sure what to believe anymore," Boyle said. "Do you really want prosperity for Lisle? Or should we start calling it prosperity for Naperville?"
Pecak said his slate had nothing to do with annexation talks.
"It was an action that Dave Nelson took," he said. "Prosperity for Lisle unequivocally was not behind this at all."
Pecak said he didn't know about Nelson's involvement during the election.
"It was an individual action," he said. "I did not have firsthand knowledge of anybody participating in that action."
Neither Pecak nor Nelson could be reached for comment Wednesday.
Complicating matters is Hasse's desire for the village to seek requests for proposals for legal services. The village currently is represented by the Ancel Glink law firm.
"Obviously, Trustee Hasse wants to get rid of the law firm because they pursued and won the consolidation matter and exposed what they (Prosperity for Lisle members) wanted to hide," Trustee Anthony Carballo said. "That Prosperity for Lisle was behind the attempt to consolidate Lisle into Naperville."
He said the village can't fire the law firm for political retaliation.
Hasse said she thought it would be appropriate to look at the legal fees now because the village is working on its next budget.
"This had nothing to do with performance," she said. "This had nothing to do with consolidation. It had to do with looking at the cost of the legal fees."
After being represented by Ancel Glink since 2002, Hasse said she believes it would be "fair" for the village to get a comparison of how other firms are billing.
"I feel it would be remiss of us not to look at this at this point," Hasse said.
Pecak, meanwhile, said he has the power to appoint a new law firm.
"Now the timing may not be the most opportune timing, but the topic was brought up," Pecak said.
"Find who you like," he said, "because I will find someone that I'm going to recommend."
Dixit declined to comment during the meeting.