Larry Deetjen has been the Village Manager in Oak Lawn for seven years but in that time he has engaged in a low profile battle with former Village Trustee Jerry Hurckes, a high profile battle with former Mayor Dave Heilmann and is currently engaged in a political dispute with Trustee Robert Streit, a one time supporter who recently stated that he had lost all confidence in Deetjen’s leadership as Village Manager.
Deetjen’s reputation was tarnished before landing in Oak Lawn but his penchant for providing “a circuitous route” when explaining simple concepts and defending Sandra Bury’s leadership have had many onlookers shaking their heads in disbelief these last 18 months.
If given a choice between telling the truth and taking a roundabout method to dazzle the listener with something less than the truth, Deetjen will usually choose the latter.
For instance, he told the Board of Trustees in June that the use of Drug Forfeiture Funds was allowable by federal guidelines even though the United State’s Justice Department demanded that the money be returned to the fund. It didn’t stop Deetjen from spinning his argument and claiming that “Chief Villanova, prior to his retirement, as well as myself and other staff worked with the U.S. Justice Department to secure their support.” The only problem is that the Justice Department did not support it even though Deetjen tried to imply it had been supportive.
Even in the face of the village’s own documentation, Deetjen doesn’t seem to be afraid to play with words, parse the truth or in some cases blatantly mislead the public or board members. Recently, Streit, who once supported Deejten, called for more police patrols to fight an increase in burglaries in the neighborhoods. Streit noted that the number of police officers had been decreased in the last budget.
Deetjen responded in writing to the Trustees stating, “…Trustee Streit stated that Mayor Bury and the board had cut sworn police positions from the budget. That statement is false.”
Streit said that the village’s own documents, including the board’s minutes from December 10, 2013 clearly show that Deetjen is speaking a different language. “When confronted with the truth, Larry doesn’t speak English, he speaks Deetjenese,” said Streit.
The board’s proposed budget presentation on December 10, 2013 states that all the departments, except the fire department budgeted levels were down and that the police department was down approximately 2% from 2013. The minutes state: “Finance Director Hanigan discussed some bad news for the Village. The police budget is down by 25 and 2 head count are gone (sworn police officers).”
Streit said that Deetjen lost his way prior to the last Mayoral election and “traded in professionalism for politics”. He noted that often he only wants a straight answer but Deetjen insists on talking in circles in his own language in an effort to confuse new board members and the public.
A perfect example of Deetjenese according to Streit was when the Oak Lawn Leaf revealed that Mark Cherry, an accused murderer had walked out of Advocate Christ Hospital. Deetjen wrote to the board that the citizens of Oak Lawn were “in no greater danger than anyone else in the Chicago Metropolitan area”. He expanded on that statement at a board meeting.
Deetjenese hasn’t just been used to explain why people shouldn’t be worried about murderers roaming the street. When the Oak Lawn Leaf exposed a $5.6 million dollar giveaway to developers by the Village, Deetjen claimed that the contract required the payment even though the requirement was no longer legally binding according to the documents.
When it was revealed that the village would only get $7 million from the Stony Promenade Development while the same developers would get $28 million, Deetjen argued that the Mariano’s store was excellent and a nice addition to the village even though those facts weren’t in dispute. He never did answer why the village should lose $24 million dollars while the developers reap a windfall profit.
When Deetjen’s friend’s medical building on 95th was built contrary to the village’s own 95th Street Corridor Plans and building laws, Deetjen used Deetjenese to say that there are other buildings like that and the building it replaced was even worse. Of course, none of the other buildings were built after the 95th Street Corridor Plan was adopted unanimously at Deetjen’s urging but the use of Deetjenese allowed him to deflect attention from the real issue.
Anyone that may be expecting Deetjen to change his ways voluntarily will be disappointed according to Streit. “He drove a village vehicle into a ditch, abandoned the car, didn’t report the incident and never faced any inquiry by our board. It’s pretty clear that my fellow less experienced Trustees and the Mayor like the sound of Deetjenese,” said Streit.
He said the only solution is that Deetjen must be replaced if the village is going to move forward. “I’ve lost all confidence in Larry’s leadership because I have caught him too many times speaking Deetjenese rather than just telling the public the truth,” stated Streit.