By Tina Richards
The consistent three-versus-two discord that has driven the Villa Park City Council since January was challenged during the Aug. 22 meeting by a resident who could contain herself no longer.
Karen Goldberg arrived late to the meeting, and missed the public comment period as well as the agenda item she intended to challenge. Her concern was a new infrastructure committee formed by the council majority (Mayor Bill Nelson, Bob Collacott, Vince Rossini) that, like the city’s other load-bearing subgroups -- community development, law enforcement advisory, budget and finance -- excluded council members Robbie Pitts and Diana Fascenelli.
Undeterred by her timing, Goldberg created an opportunity to address the council as it was voting on a city manager review document written by the human resources committee (Nelson and Rossini).
“May I speak?” she asked the council, interrupting the proceedings.
Seize the moment
“We’re in the middle of a vote,” Mayor Nelson advised. “But you may speak on the topic after the vote.” The council was voting on Fascenelli’s motion to have a professional firm create the city manager review document, instead of using the Rossini-Nelson version. She called the language of the in-house version “juvenile;” Pitts found it self-serving (to Nelson and Rossini), and both were displeased that the councilmen had written it and presented it as a fait accompli. Fascenelli’s motion failed three (Nelson, Collacott, Rossini) to two (Fascenelli, Pitts).
With the vote taken, Goldberg stepped to the podium. “So how many committees does the city have?” she asked, noting that, “We have five council members, but only three are on the committees. Why are only two or three doing the work?”
Nelson, who had allowed her to interrupt the meeting, although he didn’t have to, asked that she limit her comments to the agenda item at hand. He told her she’d have to leave the podium if she didn’t.
Goldberg repeated her question about the city committees, asking again how many there were and who was on them. “We elected five council members,” she stressed. “All of them should be part of the committees. It’s too much workload for just three.” She further noted that committee meetings tended to be cancelled, suggesting to her that the council members were too busy and had too much to do. She wanted to know why committee assignments were not spread more equally among the five council members.
You don’t say
Nelson again asked her to direct her comments to the topic. After attempting to explain that two councilmen writing a city document was part of the issue, Goldberg sat down. Nelson resumed the council action on the agenda item and the city manager review was approved, as written, by a three (Nelson, Collacott, Rossini) to two (Fascenelli, Pitts) vote.
At the end of every Villa Park council meeting, members are given time to speak on topics of their choosing. Robbie Pitts took his turn at the microphone to tell Karen Goldberg that he appreciated what she said. “The committees are a means of censorship for Diana and I,” he said, intimating that issues are decided during committee meetings, then brought to the council for a preordained vote. “I feel like the three on the left of the dais (Nelson, Collacott, Rossini) want the two on the right (Pitts, Fascenelli) to sit quietly and be good children.
“My vote doesn’t count,” he continued. “My experience is not being used. I ran for council to learn how the city works. I was elected by the voters. But I’m being censored.”
“I feel your pain,” Mayor Nelson responded. “The same thing happened to me before. I was always opposed; my vote didn’t count. It was always a three-two vote, with me losing.”
Both Rossini and Collacott suggested that all council members could contribute to the city by participating in the on-going strategic planning process. Pitts and Fascenelli had opposed hiring a consultant to facilitate a strategic plan because it was going to cost $14,000.
Up for the count
Karen Goldberg lives across the street from Diana Fascenelli, but that, she says, is not why she came to the council meeting. Fascenelli said afterward that she didn’t know her neighbor was coming, and was surprised by her comments.
“This allegation that two council members are not on any committees is untrue,” Bill Nelson said later. “Each year the council members provide the mayor with their requests for committee assignments, then the mayor uses this to make recommendation to the full council on committee assignments and the full council approves the recommendations or makes changes. I try to assign committees based on each council member’s area of strength or knowledge of the subject.”
Nelson also noted that the city has 12 committees with 15 seats and three alternate slots, for a total 18 committee positions. Of those, he points out, he is on three, Vince Rossini is on four; Bob Collacott is on four; Robbie Pitts is on four and Diana Fascenelli is on three.
“I’m still being censored,” Robbie Pitts says. “The committees that they (Nelson, Collacott, Rossini) are on are related to how the city is run, its policies, its ordinances, the way the city reacts to the community. The committees Diana Fascenelli and I are assigned to are community related, they have nothing to do with how the city is run.
“I can’t even go to their committee meetings and talk because it may violate the Brown Act,” he adds. “I can’t say anything even during public comment as a private citizen.”
VP council committee assignments widen the chasm between members