At the last Village Board Meeting, the village board voted 5-1 to enter into a settlement agreement and mutual release of all claims with its former Economic Development Director, Chad Weiler, with the village agreeing to pay Weiler $10,000.
Weiler had sued claiming that he was terminated from the position for political reasons but the political shenanigans during the litigation as well as at the board table during discussions, caused as much embarrassment for the administration.
Weiler’s ten count federal lawsuit alleged his civil rights were violated and that he was terminated in violation of his first amendment rights, his constitutional rights of equal protection under the law and protections afforded him under the Whistleblower Act. Weiler’s name had appeared on the “Phelan Hit List”, a multi page document created by mayoral adviser Tom Phelan with Mayor Sandra Bury to guide her in making decisions regarding employees and vendors.
Weiler’s complaint also claimed that Deetjen had made racist statements in killing a lease deal for the House of Brides property owner and Jencare healthcare clinic that was looking to lease the space. The allegation was not the first time that Deetjen has been accused of such conduct. According to a Florida newspaper, the Broward Times, Deetjen became embroiled in an argument with a black police officer at the airport, while employed in Florida as a city manager.
Manager Larry Deetjen had recommended that the position be eliminated although later it was recreated as a contractual position for a part-time employee with close ties to Mayor Sandra Bury.
Trustee Alex Olejniczak voted against the settlement even though Mayor Sandra Bury began the discussion by urging the settlement be approved by the board. Bury stated that she fully supported this settlement only as “a way to save taxpayer money.” She also publicly defended the actions of Larry Deetjen and other staff members in Oak Lawn regarding the JenCare location in Oak Lawn, which Deetjen was accused of steering to a less prominent location in the village due to racial reasons.
The settlement had been hinted at by Village Attorney Patrick Connelly at a previous meeting when the village voted to pursue the costs of litigation, although not attorneys’ fees from Weiler. The village has spent over $50,000 in attorney’s fees on this case and Bury defended the settlement as a prudent way to protect tax dollars. The village had voted to try to collect about $5,000 in costs for the case. In addition to the $5,000 in costs, the Oak Lawn Leaf previously reported that the village had used the litigation to investigate former Mayor Dave Heilmann and the Oak Lawn Leaf.
At the previous meeting, Connelly had noted that while the village had preliminary success in the lawsuit, Weiler could appeal the case in federal court or file a state claim against the village.
Bury admitted that the high cost of litigation was a driving force in settling the case, stating, “In an effort to stave off further appellate litigation and the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money in order to continue defending this matter and seeking affirmation of a federal judge’s opinion, this resolution is a fiscally responsible way to end this litigation for the residents of Oak Lawn.”
The village attorneys had estimated that the village could spend another $50,000 to defend the claims Weiler may pursue. Village Attorneys classified the settlement as a decision to be fiscally responsible instead of litigating on principal.
The Village’s principles in continuing the lawsuit and the conduct of the administration and its attorneys have been questioned previously. During the course of the litigation, the Village of Oak Lawn didn’t stop at requesting relevant documents, which is normal in all litigation. In fact, our investigation found the village requesting documents that were designed to undermine the Oak Lawn Leaf as well as besmirch the reputation of former Mayor Dave Heilmann.
Attorneys for the village deposed Heilmann during the course of the litigation and reportedly asked questions that had nothing to do with the litigation but rather appear to be designed to damage Heilmann’s reputation. For instance, a reliable source reported that the village attorney asked Heilmann whether he had ever “made fun of Mayor Sandra Bury’s weight”. Bury continued to attack Heilmann at the most recent board meeting, while urging a settlement she also stated that Heilmann represented Weiler prior to the lawsuit being filed. Heilmann is an attorney in private practice and was not a village official at the time.
In the discovery process, the administration demanded all communications between the owner of the Oak Lawn Leaf and any attorney at Heilmann’s law firm of 150 lawyers in an attempt to dig up information that could be used against the online media site. The search, conducted at taxpayers’ expense, did not find any emails.
At the time of that story, Robert Streit, the Dean of the Village Board of Trustees, said that he was disappointed that the village would play politics with the litigation process. “This unfortunately is another example of Mayor Bury and Larry Deetjen playing politics with taxpayers’ funds”, said Streit.
For now, the litigation claiming political discrimination and the alleged gamesmanship displayed to attack critics has come to an end with the settlement. It prevents either party from pursuing claims against the other. Each party was responsible for paying its own legal fees.