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Morton Grove Board Spats Over Senior Center

With three trustees in favor of delaying a vote on social services and three against, Morton Grove Mayor Dan Staackmann broke the tie--then a moment later broke a tie on whether to hire a social services provider. With an election looming, politics play

 

With an election two weeks away and political tensions bristling during a Morton Grove village board meeting, the board twice reached a stalemate on whether to contract with a social services provider, and Mayor Dan Staackmann twice broke a tie vote Monday.

After Trustee John Thill read a statement, Trustee Dan DiMaria, who is running against Staackmann in a primary election Feb. 26, made a retort, suggesting the village did not provide enough notice about the process of hiring a social services provider.

DiMaria also made a reference to Staackmann's wife working at a non-profit "company" the village would contract with. That provoked a clarification from Staackmann saying she works in a different location and department of the large agency and she did that before he met her. He also said he would be willing to let the state's attorney evaluate whether a conflict exists.

Trustee Larry Gomberg, who is also running for mayor in the April 9 election against whoever wins the Feb. 26 election, also weighed in.

Earlier: What North Shore would provide in social services

The issue in contention was whether the village should contract with the North Shore Senior Center for social services for people of all ages, and it played out in various ways throughout the board meeting, which saw many more people than usual in attendance.

In the early part of the meeting, long before a vote on whether to hire North Shore as a provider was called, four residents stepped to the podium during the comment period to offer personal testimonials about North Shore's excellence in providing services.

The first was Hope Hornstein, a 50-year-resident who said she worked in the mental health field, often with the elderly, and has for many years made referrals to North Shore Senior Center. 

"They do a splendid job," she said. "They’re tops in what they do. I think we were blessed to have them come in." 

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Pat Donahoe, who said she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and participates in North Shore programs, and her caregiver, Ellie Davis, both also spoke in support of the non-profit, asking trustees to approve the contract with it.

Pat Kansoer also spoke, saying his late wife had been on the village's Commission on Aging, and though they both had had concerns about North Shore when it took over, they found the agency continued to provide services, including to him near the end of her life.

Later in the meeting, Trustee John Thill read a statement that apologized to Village Manager Ryan Horne and the other top village staff members who had worked on finding North Shore, which Horne earlier said was the only agency in the area equipped to, and capable of, providing the social services Morton Grove is looking for. Thill said the criticism of the staff's effort at the last meeting--primarily by DiMaria, though he did not name him--was politically motivated.

At that point, DiMaria spoke up and retorted that Thill's statement was in itself politically motivated. 

"I vote my conscience," said DiMaria. "I vote what’s right for Morton Grove."

"I heard the term political suicide," (a comment had been made earlier that it would be political suicide to vote against North Shore), but it’s also political suicide for me to not do my job," he said.

"North Shore might be the best, but we have nothing to compare it to. I’m not ready to approve a $78,000 line item when I don’t know if that’s the right way to spend that $78,000... You can say who’s the best, but I want more details and more time to make sure we are making the right decision."

DiMaria then launched into a discussion of what he thought was a conflict of interest.

"The mayor's wife is a director at this company," he said, adding that while he didn't think there was any ill intent on the part of the Staackmanns, the code of ethics says that the appearance of impropriety shall be avoided. 

"It’s not easy for me to say this but it is the facts," DiMaria concluded.

Trustee William Grear asked whether the village could keep North Shore Senior Center providing services for one more month on a month-to-month contract, saying he just would like more time to do his homework and find out if there were other services available. Horne responded that North Shore is dedicated to serving residents, and he thought they would do whatever it took to continue that.

Trustee Larry Gomberg said the village should have used a request-for-proposal process instead of sending top staff on a fact-finding mission to see which agencies existed in the area and which could provide the social services Morton Grove is looking to contract for.

Trustees Shel Marcus and Maria Toth said staff investigated and found no other agencies were equipped to offer Morton Grove social services.

Toth said that the former staff member who provided social services on a part-time basis cost the village $116,536 annually for her salary, benefits and other expenses the village was required to pay. The contract for North Shore cost $79,000 annually, she said, pointing out the cost savings to the village.

Addressing DiMaria, Staackmann said, "You need to correct something," and told DiMaria his (Staackmann's) wife is not a director of a company, but works with with North Shore, a 501(c)3 non-profit agency,in the capacity of planning their Lifelong Learning programs.

He said he would be willing to call the state's attorney to find out if there was any collusion, and added he didn't meet his wife until after the board voted to hire North Shore (for senior services, around 2010).

"I know what you’re up to. I know what you’re about, and it’s very sad," Staackmann said. He also reminded DiMaria that DiMaria had voted for a budget which contained the item. 

The board's first vote was on whether to table the matter for a month. Trustees DiMaria, Gomberg and Grear voted yes. Trustees Marcus, Thill and Toth voted no. Mayor Staackmann broke the tie and voted no, meaning the issue would not be delayed.

Consequently, a vote on whether to contract with North Shore was held. DiMaria, Gomberg and Grear voted no. Marcus, Thill and Toth voted yes. The mayor broke the tie with a yes vote, thus approving the contract with North Shore.

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MG Filipino February 14, 2013 at 09:38 PM
Everyone should watch village meetings on televsion or attend in person to know how the board works and who is doing the work. Mr. DiMaria did not have to bring up Mrs. Staackmann and could have taken the high road. The lady, who according to what you see and read , just works for (not owns or directs) the NSSC and is not located in the village or profits from the services provided to Morton Grove. If you have looked at meetings, Mr. DiMaria rarely says much but now that he seeks to be Mayor, only now we see him more animated. As a Trustee, he would have access to the administor Mr. Horn and could have spoken to him personally even just before the meeting as was brought out in discussions to answer questions. Other Trustees seem to make it clear that all information was in all their hands for some time, so why the questions just before an election? Because it is just before an election! Simply forget the stage show theatrics and look at the records of those running, along with their integrity. Reading more here, it seems Mr. DiMaria should be careful about throwing accusations about ethics as should Mr. Grear. These men are playing with the future of our senior and social services for their political games and that is not right. Mayor Staackmann is being open and honest so its sad when others attack him for doing what is best for the village. All the due diligence was done, some just do not want to accept the findings as it is not to their advantage.
Old Time Grover February 14, 2013 at 09:45 PM
So for "principle" we should have not kept a great service to the village and denied our residents the use of the programs? Principle is doing what is right even when others try to throw mud, mud which isn't going to stick in this case. Let's move on get this election over with. DiMaria has to go and Gomberg with him, only wish there was a way to vote out Grear too.
MG Filipino February 15, 2013 at 02:37 PM
What Mr.Tom and KC keep failing to realize or disclose, is that everyone knew that the Mayor's wife worked for NSSC well before they met. I even heard that both Dimaria and Grear were at their wedding. So let's not act like this was any big revelation to the community or the village staff and government. If Dimaria was so nice, why didnt he talk to the mayor of administrator before making a spectacle of himself to prove a point on camera? I dont call that nice at all. Haven't we heard an old trick of deflection, so you dont look at the real problem. As for Dimaria abstaining from votes, what is going on there? Is Grear not abstaining doing worse. How much money is involved with these contracts every time he abstains? Is there any personal services that are provided to either of these two on the side? Let's hear some answers Dimaria and Grear.
Old Time Grover February 17, 2013 at 03:55 PM
1) What specifically would DiMaria do differently than what has been done in the past 4 years? (after all, as a trustee he has had the opportunity to do SOMETHING). 2) What SPECIFICALLY would DiMaria do differently than what has been done over the past 4 years to attract businesses? (with all his business expertise and personal charisma it should be easy to give at least a few examples). 3) What SPECIFICALLY would DiMaria do differently than what has been done over the past 4 years to hold the line on taxes? (Sherwin might be tired of hearing about the 28% increase in the property tax levy but it IS a FACT that cannot be sluffed off). 4) There is more to governing than empty promises and a glib tongue. DiMaria supporters allude to having a plan, (of course in 2005 so did the Caucus and we all know how THAT turned out). It shouldn't be too hard to let the voters in on the plan, or is this another case of we have to vote for it before we get to see what's in it?
Next Generation February 19, 2013 at 04:25 PM
Idiots? Nice. It's idiotic to miss the point of Trustees DiMaria, Gomberg, and Grear. They aren't trying to stop the services for seniors nor are they suggesting that North Shore isn't the best organization to provide them. They are opposed to the appearance of impropriety by only officially considering one organization. If you know your wife is paid from the org you are proposing to service the village you were elected to run, wouldn't you go above and beyond requirements to avoid the appearance of impropriety; or at the very least, table it for one month (while NO ONE loses services) as requested by half your Board? Nope. Staackmann breaks 2 ties with a vote to hire.

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