VP council chooses compromise over conflict

By Tina Richards

New Villa Park Mayor Robbie Pitts satisfied has first official task by assigning council members to the various county boards and city committees that require representation.  He thought.

His decision to assign Chad Zimmerman to the county sanitation board was immediately challenged, as was his move to reconfigure several of the city’s overlapping advisory committees. Pitts noted that “staff time weighed heavily in his decision” to dissolve several committees. He also pointed out that staff, specifically City Manager Steve Franks, spent over 200 hours a year with committees, that meetings were often cancelled and that any recommendations had to come to the council anyway.   

Council chairmen of any of these committees, he stressed, “could hold ad hoc meetings whenever they wanted. It would be a great act of volunteerism, but would not be agendized or require staff time.”

No muss, no fuss
Historically, committee assignments made by the mayor have been accepted by council members.  That dynamic changed when Diana Fascenelli was mayor and then-councilman Bill Nelson protested his assignment.  The disagreement led to the first council vote on committee assignments.  Last year, after leaving the council, he refused to reliquish his seat on the Vector Control board, overriding the mayor's option for his own appointment.

Pitts had intended to address his assignments at the January council meeting, but continued it to February when he learned that cutting the Law Enforcement Advisory Committee (LEAC) was a non-starter.  LEAC, the brainchild of Vince Rossini, is popular among his supporters. Rossini was unwilling to let it go.  

Pitts agreed to reinstate LEAC, and in return, the council voted to accept his other recommendations. Except for the Zimmerman appointment. Bob Collacott has represented Villa Park on the County Sanitation District Board since 2017, earning over $6,000 per year for attending meetings.  

Tempest in a teapot
Collacott did not want to step down. He enlisted the sanitation board chairman to write a letter of recommendation, noting that Collacott’s expertise was unmatched, he was likely to be named vice chairman this year, and he brought irreplaceable value to the board. Those sentiments were echoed in an email from another santitation district board member as well as Villa Park residents Donna Buxton and Wayne Silzel.

“The santitation district is critical to the health and welfare of Villa Park and Orange County,” Buxton reported. “Bob has the experience, he has the time. He gives a voice to Villa Park. Why would we not want the best of the best on this committee?  The price paid to remove him is greater than the benefit.”

“Bob has a position of influence on the sanitation board,” Silzel said.  “It benefits us.”

A new perspective
Chad Zimmerman defended himself as a suitable replacement, noting that Collacott’s contributions were admirable, but that he also had something unique to offer. “Entrenching one person in one position doesn’t allow diversity,” he said. “I bring a different set of knowledge and principles. My presentation is different than Bob’s. There are different facts that I would highlight in my reports back to the council.”

But, he summarized, in the spirit of bringing things together, he would support Collacott as the seat holder if he could be the alternate, attend meetings and be assigned to the sanitation district next year.

Crystal Miles had seemed prepared to support Zimmerman’s appointment. She reported that she had reviewed the board minutes going back a year and could find nothing that cast Collacott in a starring role or gave Villa Park any advantage.  “There’s 25 board members, 20 are city appointees,” she explained. “They are all weighted equally. The district has high-level engineers. They make the recommendations. The board does not make policy, it doesn’t make projects.  

One among many
“Having Bob there doesn’t make it better for Villa Park," she added. "I’m taken aback by the pressure to keep him on.”

Vince Rossini reminded Miles that he “had more experience” than she did, and that he “knows Bob has made a difference.” He said that he welcomed change in the coming year, but that this was not the time for it. “Chad needs another year of seasoning,” he said.  “I concur with his recommendation.”

The council voted 4 to 1 to retain Collacott on the Sanitation District Board.  Robbie Pitts was the lone “no.”

March 2020