Memo creates heated city council debate

Published 7:15 am Tuesday, November 29, 2005

By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - It's no secret to anyone who has attended a Niles City Council meeting that councilmembers Dan Vanden Heede and Scott Clark are not the best of friends. They certainly are not on the same side of the political aisle.
Rarely do they agree on issues before the city council.
Their differences were on public display Monday night when the council discussed a memo written by Vanden Heede, which accuses Clark of using “personal favors, bullying and intimidation to further a personal agenda, at times for personal gain.”
However, when pressed by Clark and two other council members to provide specifics, Vanden Heede could not or would not.
Clark, in turn, accused Vanden Heede of doing exactly what he was being taken to task for, which was communicating with city employees absent involvement of the city administrator.
The city's charter provides that city council members not become involved in the workings of city staffers.
At the core of Vanden Heede's memo are an easement on property purchased by the city from Clark, necessary for its recent extensive water project, as well as a contract between Clark's business and the city for providing maintenance and repairs to police cars.
Clark's company, Clark's Service, also provides towing service when requested to do so by the city police department.
Vanden Heede said he never intended to make his allegations against Clark or his memo public. However, Niles Mayor Mike McCauslin said when a council member makes such accusations of impropriety, the issue must be aired publicly.
McCauslin said Clark's company is the only company providing towing services for city police because no other qualified provider has asked to be put on the list.
At one time, the city had three towing services it would call on a rotating basis. However, “one was deemed unreliable and dropped from the list. The other was involved in legal situations that created a situation that the city couldn't call that towing service because of the allegations against it,” McCauslin said.
Also, when asked about the city police department's procedure for choosing a towing service, Chief Ric Huff said officers call for whatever company individuals in an accident request. It's only when the citizens don't have a preference that officers go look to its list of tow providers, which only contains Clark's Service at present.
As to the contract to provide service for police vehicles, McCauslin said, “I was on the council when much discussion was going on about the contract at the time and we did receive a legal opinion (from the state attorney general) that it was not a conflict because the contract had been bid.
McCauslin said the council or the police department are free to re-bid the contract at any time. However, no one has expressed a desire to do so.
Vanden Heede did say he asked for the contract to be re-bid two or so years ago. However, no one seemed to remember his making that request and he apparently did not do so during a city council meeting.
As for the easement for property purchased from Clark, McCauslin said the issue was $10,000 from an over $5 million water upgrade project.
However, doing so, re-routing the project, would have been much more costly than the easement,” McCauslin said. “This was a $5 million project that we weren't micromanaging. If this easement should have come before the council, then every single expenditure should have. The council approved $5 million for this project, which came in about $200,000 under budget.”
Clark indicated the total value of the property from which the easement was taken to have been appraised at $600,000.
Councilmember Bruce Williams, who owns Williams Lumber and Hardware in Niles, questioned Vanden Heede about his letter, which accuses council members of being “too long … complacent … We have too long ignored Councilmember Clark's inherit conflict of interest.”
Williams asked Vanden Heede to address specifically what he bases his opinion that the council has been complacent. Vanden Heede pointed to the “exclusive contract for seven years without going up for bid.”
Williams asked, “Have you brought this up before?” Vanden Heede claimed he had about two years ago, but no one seemed to recall his making that request and he apparently did not do so during a city council meeting.”
Vanden Heede responded, “I respect your thoughts and I stand by everything in my memo.”
Vanden Heede said he was not accusing Clark of doing anything illegal, but that the council should err on the side of caution and be “transparent” in its dealings with Clark.
Clark passionately defended his business and his dealings with the city. In turn, he accused Vanden Heede of being “a liar” and called him “a Socialist.” He asked Vanden Heede to provide specific instances of his bullying city employees. Vanden Heede would not.
However, councilmember Patricia Gallagher spoke up, saying she had witnessed Clark “threaten” Vanden Heede after a public hearing on the Indeck Energy issue, which was held at Ring Lardner Middle School.
Clark said he has not bullied or intimidated any city employee and held up a letter from the city's human resources administrator verifying she has never received any complaint against Clark from a city employee.
What have you done on this council? You need to do some research,” he said to Vanden Heede.
Clark said he was emotional about the issue because his integrity was at question.