As recently revealed in a TIP IT column, Mayor Sandra Bury is seeking to change the makeup of the Oak Lawn Liquor Commission by appointing five advisers to assist her in her statutory duties as Liquor Commissioner.
The controversial first term Mayor first raised the issue at the August 11th Village Board meeting asking the board to consider the idea of forming a local liquor commission. She said at the time that she had asked the Village Attorney to look at preparing an ordinance that would change the way the liquor commission has operated since it was first established under Illinois law. According to Bury, the advisory board would help her in preparing and reviewing license applications, conducting disciplinary hearings, looking at police reports, and recommending changes to the liquor code as necessary.
By virtue of reviewing applications, the advisory panel would have access to tax identification numbers for businesses as well as social security numbers of applicants.
It appears that only two licensees have had disciplinary hearings during Bury’s tenure. She received public criticism for failing to take disciplinary action against PJ’s Pourhouse, owned by Patrick Phelan, who is the brother of Bury’s political adviser Tom Phelan, after Patrick Phelan punched a customer at the bar.
Bury campaigned for stronger sanctions against liquor license owners but was also accused of playing politics when she failed to take any action against Phelan’s bar, when the police caught bartenders serving underage patrons. Bury, as the village’s liquor control commissioner, has sole authority in determining whether a liquor licensee has violated the local ordinance. That authority would not change with the ordinance but it would allow the Mayor to seek the advice of the yet to be appointed five member panel.
While Bury and her allies on the Village Board created the Legislative, License and Ethics Committee with the then stated purpose of reviewing all ordinances before they are presented to the village board, Bury has set the ordinance for approval on tonight’s village board agenda. According to the Village of Oak Lawn’s website, the committee has not met since June and there were no public notices posted, or minutes, as required by law.
At the August 11th meeting, the board did not engage in any public discussion regarding the issue and instead Bury told the board that she would like to hear from each of them privately before the next board meeting. It is unknown if any of the board members contacted Bury. This could be seen as a circumvention of the Open Meetings Act, which requires village matters to be discussed publicly with advance notice if multiple board members participate.
Trustee Robert Streit (Dist. 3), who has been consistently opposed to Bury’s policies confirmed that he had not spoken to Bury about the idea. “I don’t believe that it is ever in the best interest of the taxpayers for the village officials to be discussing policy changes in private when we could easily discuss it in the public meeting,” said Streit.
Trustee Terry Vorderer (Dist. 4) told the Daily Southtown that he wants to hear more specific information from the Mayor before deciding whether to support the idea.
The ordinance would give Bury the sole power to appoint the five member board with staggered terms without any input from Village Trustees. The ordinance does not provide any provision that would prevent Bury from appointing current licensees, individuals with family or business ties to licensees or individuals with other financial interests in the property of licensees or prospective licensees.
Bury’s appointees in the past have sometimes been controversial figures within the government and her appointments to this advisory body would likely come under scrutiny.
Oak Lawn resident and Traffic Review Committee member, Norm Lepescu, who was appointed by Mayor Sandra Bury to the Village’s Traffic Review Committee, embarrassed the administration when he was the subject of a police report for disorderly conduct. Lepescu was accused of driving at a high rate of speed and cutting off another vehicle, forcing it to the curb. Lepescu, reportedly then began yelling at the driver of the car that he had forced off the road.
A police patrol witnessed Lepescu yelling at the other driver in the street. In the police report, Lepescu told the police he drove in front of the other vehicle and stopped it. Lepescu told the police officer that he got out of his car and began yelling at the other driver because he’s “an idiot” and “shouldn’t have a driver’s license” for pulling out into traffic and not accelerating fast enough for his liking.
The police officer reported that he then asked Lepescu if he thought it was wise to park his vehicle on Southwest Highway and begin yelling at someone while standing on the street. Lepescu, without accepting any responsibility, answered that if the other driver was not such “an idiot” the incident wouldn’t have happened.
Similarly, Bury appointed political gadfly Andy Skoundrianos to serve as a member of the village’s Appeals Board. Skoundrianos was arrested in a village board meeting after causing a disturbance that included interrupting former Trustee Carol Quinlan and refusing to adhere to the rules of conduct. He was removed from the meeting by an Oak Lawn police officer.
All previous Mayors of Oak Lawn have served simultaneously as the Village’s Liquor Commissioner without requesting any assistance from an advisory board. This is a second “advisory” board appointed by Bury. She was forced to appoint an advisory board for the Planning and Development Commission when her attempt to prematurely terminate the terms of appointed members was prevented by Illinois law. Instead, she appointed a three member advisory committee to assist that board which by ordinance advises the elected Mayor and Trustees. Bury created an advisory committee for an advisory committee.
The three member Planning and Development Commission advisory committee of Paul Vail, John Crivellone, and Rita Olsen don’t seem to have a defined role and are not mentioned as participating in meetings held by the ten member Planning and Development Commission.