BGA Public Eye: Fat tree-trimming deal to Berwyn mayor’s backer despite complaints

SHARE BGA Public Eye: Fat tree-trimming deal to Berwyn mayor’s backer despite complaints

Edward Allard is bracing himself.

“The tree butchering has started again,” says the 63-year-old Berwyn resident, who’s so upset about his city’s tree maintenance that he maintains a blog — Save Berwyn Trees. “They are removing way too many branches from the lower part of the tree.”

Allard says that last year the parkway trees on his block were “butchered and mutilated” by the private company the cash-strapped west suburb has paid more than $1 million for tree trimming and removal since 2012.

“Everyone was, like, in shock on my block when they came through,” Allard says.

The trees not only “look ugly,” he says, but also are “starving of nutrition” as a result of losing so much foliage.

Shown photos of Berwyn’s tree-trimming, Pete Smith, an urban forestry program manager for the Arbor Day Foundation, a tree conservation group, says too much is being trimmed back.

“These look like fairly leafy neighborhoods, and they have been very dramatically affected,” says Smith, who says the result is that it’s going to take a long time for new branches to grow and fill in.

Rados Markovic, who owns Lyons Tree Service, the Darien company hired by Berwyn, says city officials asked his crews “to go heavier” on the trimming so trucks could pass by and branches were kept away from the roofs of homes.

“We are not doing anything without them OK’ing it,” Markovic says.

Assistant City Administrator Evan Summers acknowledges that some trees “might look a little different” post-trimming but says Berwyn can’t afford to do more regular but less noticeable tree-trimming.

“We don’t have the funds to prune them every few years,” says Summers. “We have to do them once every 10 years.”

Still, costs are sharply up for the city, which is facing financial problems, with poorly funded police and fire pension funds. Berwyn paid Darien-based Lyons Tree Service $515,000 in 2014 for tree trimming and removal, according to city records and interviews. That was up from $367,000 in 2013 and $217,000 in 2012.

Berwyn has around 13,000 trees on parkways and other city property.

Nearby Oak Park, which has about 19,000 trees on village property, spent far less than Berwyn did on tree trimming and removal last year: $386,000.

Summers says expenses have been running high for tree services in Berwyn largely because there are more trees infested by the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle species that’s been wiping out ash trees all over the Chicago region.

He says Berwyn previously was contracting for the work on a monthly basis and only recently came up with a comprehensive plan for maintaining its trees.

“We are trying to play catch-up now,” says Summers.

Lyons was first hired to do tree work in Berwyn in 2012. That year, the company began contributing to Mayor Robert Lovero’s campaign fund, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records, which show Lovero has gotten a total of $14,700 from Lyons since then.

Even though Berwyn generally requires formal, competitive bidding for purchases and contracts over $10,000, Lyons was handed the work without competitive bidding.

Lovero didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Summers says it was Berwyn’s public works director, not the mayor, who decided to hire the company. The public works director didn’t return calls.

Markovic says “no way” did his campaign contributions have anything to do with his company’s hiring. He says he donated because he used to live in Berwyn and wanted “to give back to the community.”

Summers says he doesn’t know whether officials violated a city ordinance by not bidding out the work.

Ald. Margaret Paul says there’s no question the bidding process was “undermined” by the previous month-to-month billing.

“What we had was serial contracts over and over and over again over the years that I think were thwarting the requirement for the bids,” Paul says.

This year, the city issued a request for proposals, and the Berwyn City Council approved Lyons as the winning bidder. Summers says Lyons was “the lowest, most-qualified bidder.”

This was written by Katie Drews, an investigator for the Better Government Association.

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