Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart (left) and Harvey Mayor Eric Kellogg
Harvey is one of the Chicago area’s most troubled municipalities.
The south suburb of about 25,000 people has been plagued by financial mismanagement and alleged police misconduct. It owes the city of Chicago millions of dollars in unpaid water bills and was sued last year by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly defrauding investors in a failed hotel development deal.
If any town needs more oversight, it’s Harvey, critics say.
But Mayor Eric Kellogg recently vetoed an ordinance that called for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to serve as the suburb’s inspector general.
Dart is the municipal government watchdog in Dolton, Maywood, Robbins and five other suburbs. In that role, his office has the power to investigate allegations of corruption, fraud and waste, and seek criminal charges or recommend discipline, if appropriate.
The Harvey City Council passed an ordinance June 2 that would’ve empowered Dart to do the same in Harvey. Some aldermen say more oversight may have prevented many of the town’s recent scandals and they want that protection going forward.
“There’s no one double-checking anything,” says Harvey Ald. Shirley Drewenski, who supports naming Dart the IG.
It’s unclear whether Drewenski and others will get their way.
Kellogg vetoed the ordinance June 8 and two weeks later abruptly adjourned a meeting where some aldermen tried to override his opposition, officials say.
The mayor wouldn’t speak to the Better Government Association. But his spokesman Sean Howard says Harvey doesn’t need a watchdog.
“The city has the capacity to oversee its own operations,” he says. “It’s nothing personal against Tom Dart. We’re capable of doing it ourselves.”
But Ald. Christopher Clark says all you need to do is look at the town’s financial struggles and the “potholes and leaky fire hydrants” to know more oversight is necessary.
“We are a city under siege and we need help,” Clark says.
Some aldermen say they may attempt to override Kellogg’s veto at an upcoming City Council meeting. To do so, they need at least four votes. There are six aldermen in Harvey in total. The City Council voted 5-0 (with one absence) to bring in Dart, but one of the five has already signaled he’s changed his mind and wouldn’t vote the same way again.
Dart spokeswoman Cara Smith says the sheriff’s office would welcome an override.
“It would be significant to have an IG in a town that’s wrestled with corruption and suspicion of corruption for years and years,” she says.
If the City Council overrides Kellogg, it would be the second time it defied the mayor on a matter involving Dart’s office.
Last year, the council voted to have the sheriff audit its police department amid allegations of misconduct. Kellogg vetoed that ordinance, too, but was eventually overridden. Smith says a report on that study is nearly complete.
This time, where Dart is concerned, that override may not be as simple.
In May, Clark and Lamont Brown replaced two incumbents on the City Council. Both of the new members voted to name Dart the IG.
But Brown’s status is uncertain. In a lawsuit, filed June 18 in Cook County Circuit Court, a Harvey resident claims that Brown can’t be alderman because of his criminal record. Illinois law prohibits felons from holding municipal office.
If Brown steps down or is removed from the council, Kellogg can appoint his replacement. If the aldermen haven’t overturned Kellogg’s veto by then, the push to name Dart the suburb’s watchdog may fail, Clark and others worry.
If Kellogg doesn’t want Dart to be IG, it’s reasonable to believe he’d appoint a council member who’d share that view, potentially leaving aldermen short of the four votes they need to overturn Kellogg’s veto. Some aldermen say they’ve asked to have the Dart issue added to meeting agendas but have been ignored or rebuffed, leading them to wonder if Kellogg or his supporters are stalling until Brown is off the board.
“He may be trying to kick the can down the road,” Clark says.
Howard said that’s not true, that Kellogg “has nothing to do with the Brown issue.”
This column – a regular feature called The Public Eye, appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times – was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter, who can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 821-9035.
Image credits: Chicago Sun-Times