A political newsletter distributed by Oak Lawn’s Tom Phelan in 2013 supporting term limits may come back to haunt him and raise questions of hypocrisy.
Phelan, who has served two terms as a Village Trustee and one term as Mayor Sandra Bury’s campaign manager and chief political adviser, has distributed a newsletter by email for many years claiming to send it to 5,000 homes. The Oak Lawn Leaf received a copy of the December 9, 2013 newsletter in which Phelan proposes a series of questions that he then answers.
One of the questions asked for Phelan’s opinion regarding “term limits” for Oak Lawn’s elected officials.
Sent: Monday, December 9, 2013 12:11 PM
Subject: Neighborhood Updates: 12-9-13
FAQ: I also see that the Board is contemplating implementing Term Limits for its elected officials. What’s your opinion on that?
ANS: I agree 100% that there should be term limits and witnessed first-hand what happens to Trustees when they are in office too long. However, I believe in Oak Lawn’s case that the Village Clerk should not be included in term limits and that it should only apply to the Mayor and Trustees who are part-time officials BUT have the power to pass laws and increase our taxes. The Village Clerk position is a full-time position with no such powers and acts more in the day-to-day running of the Village, which in the long-term can be very important and beneficial. And the current Village Clerk, Jane Quinlan, has really demonstrated just how important and beneficial that can be, just as the previous Clerk, Jayne Powers, did before her.
Despite his answer touting the value of term limits and noting that he has “witnessed first hand what happens to Trustees when they are in office too long”, Phelan has already served twelve years in leadership at the village. If successful in his bid to serve again as Trustee, he would have served the village for a total of 16 years.
The 12 year term limit proposal referred to by Phelan in the question and answer routine was approved by Oak Lawn voters by a wide majority. However, the Trustees along with Mayor Sandra Bury, created a loophole that allows Phelan to seek three more terms for Trustee.
Phelan, who is facing political newcomer Jozette Palermo in his attempt to add another term to his resume, may face questions of hypocrisy due to his decision to run after publicly stating that he has witnessed “what happens to Trustees when they are in office too long”.
Phelan has not only served the village for 12 years, he has exhibited unmatched power and policy influence for a Trustee setting the course for labor relations battles with the Oak Lawn Firefighter’s Union over the minimum manning issue about 10 years ago. He continues to advise the Mayor to continue litigation with the union despite the high cost of legal fees and overtime reaching over three million dollars.
Phelan’s longtime political associate, District 2 Trustee Alex Olejniczak has a similar issue with term limits having supported the concept prior to the last election in 2015 only to reverse course now and run for a fourth term that would see him serve 16 years also.
Olejniczak’s decision to run flew in the face of his comments to the Oak Lawn Reporter in 2013, when he stated:
What we have seen in the history of Oak Lawn is people that have been in their positions for too long of a period of time,” Olejniczak said. “This causes complacency and intimidates other candidates who want to go out there and run as a trustee. If a person has been in there that long, they have a lot of connections and people that they rely upon.
Anytime a village can get more people involved and give them opportunities to be involved in the community. Anytime we can bring in new ideas and new ways to look at thing in any form of government, that’s a good thing …By the time I finish my third term, it’ll be done.
Despite the promise to end his tenure after three terms, Olejniczak, like Phelan, is looking at extending his tenure. Olejniczak is also facing a challenge from a newcomer to politics, Glenn Schlesser, who is a Firefighter/Paramedic with a rank of Captain.
The pronouncements by Olejniczak and Phelan and then the decision to ignore the term limit pledges also provides a difficult political situation for Mayor Sandra Bury, who supported term limits in 2013 but now supports both Phelan and Olejniczak for reelection.
Bury recently announced her support for Phelan and is also running with Olejniczak. In 2013, she was a proponent of term limits telling the Oak Lawn Reporter that term limits would keep the Village Board “fresh”:
New people bring in new ideas,” she said. “When village trustees know they have a time frame, then they know they have four years or eight years or a certain amount of time to get things done. Without term limits, we have people who have been in office for so long, they either sit there and do nothing, or work the system so well that there is a potential for conduct that is inappropriate and can take advantage of their position.