BGA Public Eye: In Harvey, council, mayor go head-to-head over bringing in Sheriff Tom Dart as watchdog

SHARE BGA Public Eye: In Harvey, council, mayor go head-to-head over bringing in Sheriff Tom Dart as watchdog

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 allegations of police misconduct. It owes the city of Chicago millions of dollars in unpaid water bills and was sued last year by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission over accusations of 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 has been given that role as municipal government watchdog in Dolton, Maywood, Robbins and five other suburbs, with the power to investigate allegations of corruption, fraud and waste, and also to seek criminal charges or recommend discipline.

The Harvey City Council passed an ordinance June 2 that would have empowered Dart to do the same things in Harvey. Some aldermen say more oversight might have helped avert some of Harvey’s recent scandals and say they want that protection going forward.

“There’s no one double-checking anything,” says Ald. Shirley Drewenski, who supports naming Dart as Harvey’s inspector general.

But on June 8 Kellogg vetoed the ordinance Drewenski supported. Two weeks later, he abruptly adjourned a council meeting at which aldermen tried to override his veto.

The mayor declined interview requests. Kellogg spokesman Sean Howard says Harvey doesn’t need an outside watchdog.

“The city has the capacity to oversee its own operations,” says Kellogg. “It’s nothing personal against Tom Dart. We’re capable of doing it ourselves.”

But Ald. Christopher Clark says all anyone has to do is look at the town’s financial struggles and the “potholes and leaky fire hydrants” to see that more oversight is necessary.

“We are a city under siege, and we need help,” Clark says.

Some aldermen say they might try again to override Kellogg’s veto. They would need votes from at least four of Harvey’s six aldermen. The City Council voted 5-0, with one alderman absent, to bring in Dart. But one of the five has 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 of Kellogg’s veto.

“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 does override 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 the 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, an override might not be as simple. In May, Clark and Lamont Brown replaced two incumbents on the city council. Both new members voted to bring in Dart. Now, in a lawsuit filed June 18 in Cook County Circuit Court, a Harvey resident argues that Brown can’t be alderman because he has a criminal record. Illinois law prohibits felons from holding municipal office.

If Brown steps down or is removed, 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 could fail for a lack of the four votes needed, Clark and others say.

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 whether that’s a delay tactic, waiting to see if Brown ends up leaving the council.

“He may be trying to kick the can down the road,” Clark says of Kellogg.

Howard says Kellogg “has nothing to do with the Brown issue.”

This was written by Andrew Schroedter of the Better Government Association.

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