Orland Fire Protection District trustees have suspended the hiring of 11 new firefighters for at least two weeks while they review the costs and potential savings associated with hiring any or all of them.
“This does not mean that the 11 firefighters will not be hired,” District Board President James Hickey said. “All it states is that we want further reports to determine what is the advantages and disadvantages of hiring four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 and 11 firemen.”
The process for hiring firefighters started before last week. Several of those men lined the back of the room and declined to speak about the meeting.
Trustee Martin McGill noted that some of them have already “resigned from their present positions” and reminded Hickey that he voted yes to hiring only a few weeks ago. Hickey said he doesn’t doubt the district needs firefighters to fill retirement vacancies.
“We are here for the taxpayers,” he said, “and we are here to make sure that their money is spent properly, and we need to have all of the information necessary to make a detailed decision.”
For “two years, maybe three years," McGill countered, "the chief has been asking to hire new individuals. Unless I’m half crazy I know that discussion has pursued…in an executive session that we had. The chief wanted 16 and we all agreed on hiring 11...”
Either way, a special meeting on the subject will be held on June 7 to give at least new trustees Blair Rhode and Christopher Evoy time to catch up.
The morning's , although the contention took on a more cordial tone.
“It’s a work in progress,” spokeswoman Rosemaria Genova said, speaking on Hickey’s behalf, after the meeting. “It’ll take a little time for the board to kind of get unified on some of the new changes. I think (you’ll) eventually see a little more cooperation…as the time progresses.”
Publicly, as he did last week, McGill complained of not possessing full knowledge of the issues or at least applications from the various services and people on the agenda. Hickey said McGill should have had most of it in his board packet.
Several issues were postponed until later, so that board members could discuss them behind closed doors and then come back out to vote.
The public comments were even less contentious. However, the morning manners did little to refrain audience members from murmuring amongst one another. “Let the lies begin,” one lieutenant muttered to neighbors as the board members were seated. Another woman likened the impending meeting to a “witch hunt.”
Sometimes in full agreement, sometimes without the approval of trustees McGill and Glenn Michalek, the board:
- repealed policy that says battalion chiefs cannot serve on other districts
- moved board meetings to the third and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 5 p.m.
- appointed John Brudnak to fill open seat on board of commissioners next month
- fired Bill Figel and his public relations company
- hired Urban Strategies Group, led by Ray Hanania, on an interim basis to handle public information
- suspended all non-essential expenditures until Rhode and Evoy can study the past and potential future purchases
Chief Bryant Krizik and Operations Deputy Chief Joe Madden have also been put on 30-day administrative leave with pay. Krizik deferred questions to Hickey and Hickey denied comment.
When asked whether the board’s disagreements had become a distraction, Krizik said he has run “the fire district without reduction in workload or anything, all the way up until this morning.”
Battalion Chief Ray Kay, who was made interim chief, said, “I think we have to make sure we maintain our service to the public, and I think anything more than that is really not within my scope. I have to keep things running and keep things going.”
Last week the board discussed firing Tom Dubelbeis and hiring former trustee Cindy Katsenes and former Chief Bob Buhs as consultants. The issue will be addressed at next month’s meeting.
The board was expected on Thursday to appoint Martin McGuire to fill an open fire commissioner’s seat, but trustee Christopher Evoy nominated Brudnak, a former village trustee candidate and Orland School District 135 Board of Education member, during the meeting's last minutes.
“McGuire is currently out of town,” Hickey said. “I still do like him for the position but some of the other board members voted differently for John Brudnak, so I’m in agreement with John Brudnak as well.”
Evoy, Rhode and Brudnak were all a part of the Fiscal Voices of Orland slate, which received support from Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman. Within the last two months the party received campaign donations from Del Galdo Law Group (who was hired to represent the fire district last week) to the tune of $4,750 and from Alfred Ronan (who according to Rhode is an associate lobbyist of Cheryl Axley, who also was hired this week) for $3,700. Katsenes is registered with the state as the party’s treasurer.
Katsenes said she plans to review the district’s legal fees and past expenditures if hired as a consultant.
As a lobbyist for the district, Axley’s job will be to research federal and state grants and keep in touch with the Northern Illinois Alliance of Fire Protection Districts.
“We’re the largest...fire district in the state of Illinois,” Genova said. “And so it’s in our interest to bring in funds and ease the burden on taxpayers.”
“Go, get us money,” Orland Hills resident Gillian Mandekich said in reference to Axley. “If that’s what she’s doing, great. However, why did it have to come from the second largest contributor?”
Mandekich said her husband works for the fire district.
“I’m not against what the board is doing,” she said. “But why is it that the first two things (they) do are about patronage?”
Return to Orland Park Patch later for videos from the meeting.