by Barry Dredze
Zoning and development issues are a common point of friction in Winfield’s political discourse, variably pitting factions in support of revenue-generating development or preservation of an attractive village character, supporters of commercial development of the Roosevelt Road corridor or an accelerated Town Center development against each other.
When Trustee James Hughes resigned from all of the committee liaison appointments that he shared with Trustee Erik Spande shortly following Spande’s release of a summary of nearly a year’s worth of closed executive sessions regarding the Winfield Police Department’s share of the Village budget, Hughes echoed sustained efforts to characterize local civic organization Winfield United for a Better Community (WU) as having an unfair and outsized influence on Village zoning and development polices.
Spande was ejected from the regular Village Board meeting in a 4-2 vote on May 17 and unanimously censured for violation of the Village Board Code of Ethics following his ejection. Trustees Hughes and Spande had shared liaison appointments to the Riverwalk, Bikeways, and Communication & Technology Committees and the Environmental Concerns Commission since April, 2011.
“I believe Trustee Spande’s actions have been nothing but a sad Political Game that has ended in my loss of Faith, Confidence, and Trust in Mr. Spande,” Hughes wrote submitting his resignation from four of his seven liaison appointments in an email to Village President Deborah Birutis on May 19. “How is this NOT some sort of sad political game by Mr. Spande for his own personal agenda and/or that of WU?”
The effort to portray an extraordinary influence by Winfield United on Village policy escalated during Trustee Tim Allen’s opposition to the 2010 Village-backed road maintenance referendum campaign. Referendum opponents relied heavily upon associations linking WU and the Village’s attempt to issue bonds and temporarily lift the property tax cap to fund a 20-year road maintenance policy. The referendums were defeated in 2010 and Allen was elected to the Village Board in April, 2011.
During the referendum campaign, Allen circulated pamphlets and published information on a local political weblog including a map identifying the homes of WU contributors, mostly on the south side of town and nearby unincorporated areas in the vicinity of Roosevelt Road. Allen’s materials described the attempt to raise revenues through the road referendums, “so that non-Winfield home owners can have back yards that are splendid, leafy green and lovely.” The materials also featured a graphic characterization of Roosevelt Road as “Rosie the Cow” eager to be milked of its potential commercial revenues.
In his email of resignation from liaison appointments, Hughes also assured Village President Birutis of his intention to remain liaison to those committee appointments that he did not share with Spande – namely, the Fire District and Library Boards as well as the Economic Development Task Force (EDTF) for which Spande’s liaison nomination was rejected in a 4-2 vote by the Village Board on May 17, prior to his ejection and censure.
On February 16, the Village Board had expanded the scope of the EDTF from its original focus on implementing the 2008 Town Center Marketing and Capacity Study to the Village as a whole, including unincorporated areas in the greater Winfield planning area.
Trustee Tim Allen had sought to expand the scope of the Task Force since December, 2011. A heated January, 2012 email correspondence between Allen and Village President Birutis revealed further insight into the effort as Allen expressed frustration over a reference from Birutis to DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin regarding a County Board vacancy appointment of former Winfield resident Bill Bedrossian over former Winfield Village Trustee Chris Levan
“It’s also clear that we have built a coalition that wants development and they are interested in working on Roosevelt Road,” Allen wrote. “Stalling the expansion of the vision of the EDTF is a perfect example. It may have taken 4 meetings but I will have what I want. After that we do the Marathon & Fire Station. After that we revise the Comprehensive plan. Then we start changing zoning. Then we start making sustainable revenues. You can try to stop us but it will only work for a little while.”
On May 17, following the expulsion and censure of Spande, the Village Board of Trustees sent the matter of the rezoning of properties at the northeast corner of Roosevelt and Winfield Roads to the Plan Commission, including the Marathon gas station, the floodplain property to its east and the currently unstaffed Fire Station no. 2 to its north.
Years before the emergence of “Rosie the Cow,” Winfield United for a Better Community was organized to compete with the highly effective political fundraising by development interests focused on the Winfield planning area Roosevelt Road corridor. Citizens for Winfield raised significant funds for candidates who shared that vision with development interests in the Winfield area and beyond.
Launched in 2001, Citizens for Winfield funded campaigns of Village officials including former Village Trustees Chris Mackowiak, Dale Bianco, Tom McClow and Chris Levan with contributions from regional development interests such as Louis Ruffalo Construction of Naperville and Gary Weber & Associates of Wheaton to diversified financial interests such as Greenberg Traurig of Miami, Florida.
Winfield United for a Better Community was incorporated in August, 2004 as a 501(c)(4) not for profit corporation.
“The distinction,” WU President Steve Romanelli said, “is that a (c)(4) corporation can get involved with endorsing political candidates, which makes the donations to this type of corporation non tax deductible.”
WU has a 3-team concept, Romanelli explained, consisting of Community Projects, such as providing children’s activities during Village events like the minnow races at Good Old Days and an inflatable Moon Walk during the Criterium bicycle races and implementing the outdoor classroom at Winfield Primary School; Communications, focusing on members and residents with a website, weblog and periodic newsletters; and Civic Involvement, including the vetting of candidates seeking endorsement and support.
“The Civic Involvement team learned of Illinois Election Board requirements that specifically required any organization who will accept or contribute more than $2,500 to be registered as a local political committee,” Romanelli said. “In our efforts to remain up front and transparent, the committee was registered as Winfield United Political Committee and has a separate chairperson and separate bank account so we keep all finances independent.”
According to State Board of Elections data, Citizens for Winfield raised $21,795 to fund the slate of candidates for the April 5, 2005 consolidated election campaign with then-Trustee Levan for Village President, reelection of Trustees McClow and Mackowiak and the election of Jennifer Saylor outdoing the $17,640 raised by the slate funded by the Winfield United Political Committee with then-Trustee Rudy Czech for Village President and Christine Petitti, Jack Bajor and Joel Kunesh for Trustees.
Since that time, the popular support for WU-backed candidates has been somewhat effectively eroded by attacks against its political fundraising as Allen and former High School District 94 Board President Tony Reyes have advanced a populist narrative of Winfield United as a fundraising powerhouse of the moneyed elite.
On September 1, 2011 Allen opposed the appointment of WU member Rock Rockett to the Public Works Committee.
“I don’t necessarily have a problem with Rock Rockett, per se,” Allen said. “What I do have a problem with is the excessive population of card-carrying, dues-paying and political activism-contributing members of Winfield United who seem to make proactively every commission without fail.”
As Winfield United has entered the issue of the Winfield Police Department’s share of the Village budget, sponsoring printed yard signs in support of retaining the Winfield Police Department, Trustees Allen, Hughes and Reyes have attacked the organization’s effort head-on.
“That $5 sign may cost you $1,000 per year,” Reyes wrote in a widely circulated June 14 email message. “You lo$e –WU win$!”
The cost of a single sign is $3.87, Winfield United member Karen Skillman said. Including the $1.54 cost of a wire frame, the total cost of a yard sign is $5.41.
“We are selling [a yard sign] for $5.00 and covering the rest,” Skillman said.
Spande’s defiance of protocol for closed executive sessions appears to have opened up an opportunity for Trustee Hughes to add his voice to the attacks on Winfield United, alternately accusing Spande of giving personal directions via email to Village committees that he serves as Trustee liaison and advancing a WU agenda.
“Erik’s email provide special comment and direction from ONE board member – was Erik directed by the board to send ES [executive session] information to the RW [Riverwalk Committee]? Did board direct him to tell RW in email direction from his censure and to tell them to go to his personal YouTube site, was that Village Board Direction?”
Hughes remains most concerned with Spande having leaked his summary to Village committees.
“I am told I was in rare form with my speech, which demanded honesty and open and transparent government,” Spande wrote in an email to the members of the Riverwalk Committee the day after his expulsion and censure at the May 17 Village Board meeting. “Look for my speech on speaking truth to power on YouTube soon.”
“It’s hard to deny Erik didn’t provide his person [sic] actions to the committee (including his saying his YouTube channel is coming) – that is not board direction,” Hughes said via email messages following his trustee liaison resignations.
There remains no YouTube account under the name of Erik Spande at presstime and Spande insists that he is not now, nor has he ever been a member of Winfield United. While State Board of Elections data shows that Spande had contributed $300 to the Winfield United Political Committee during the 2011 campaign, Hughes had contributed $500 and received the endorsement of Winfield United for Village Trustee. Spande ran for office in 2009 on a slate named “Winfield 4” with Angel Oakley for Village President and Jay Olson, Tim Allen and himself for Village Trustees. Olson was the sole winner from the slate that year.
Spande petitioned for a place on the 2011 ballot and initially received the endorsement of Winfield United along with Hughes and incumbents Glenn VadeBonCoeur, Cliff Mortensen and the late Joel Kunesh but withdrew his candidacy before the deadline to file petitions. Spande was appointed to the Village Board by Birutis in March, 2011 to serve out the term of Trustee Kunesh who passed away in February, 2011.
“We have always been accused of just being a PAC, which we are not,” Romanelli said. “We are a not for profit corporation whose main purpose is to provide benefit to Winfield by volunteering our efforts in ways that improve the quality of life for residents, while also supporting open and honest village government that seeks to encourage residents to get involved and informed in the community.”