OPINION: Maywood’s Current Chaos Is Not Exactly New

A 1977 article in the Maywood Herald detailing the clash between Mayor James Parilli, pictured in the article, and the trustee board. | Cellphone photo of Herald archive book 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022 || By Michael Romain/OPINION || @maywoodnews 

Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard multiple Maywood residents say that the village’s local government has never been so chaotic.

There is, no doubt, turbulence. A mayor charged last month with DUI while driving a village-owned vehicle.

A nearly $100,000 investigation into claims of workplace harassment made against the mayor by his hand-picked village manager.

Dueling claims to appoint an interim manager made by the mayor and the board.

A police chief, chosen by the board to be interim manager, initially declines the appointment before relenting to take it on for a brief period of time.

A tug-of-war between the mayor and the board for the $50,000 SUV the mayor was driving when he was arrested for DUI.

Residents floating in public the possibility of recalling the mayor.

So, yes, things are pretty wild. But a recent perusal of the archives of our longtime newspaper, the Maywood Herald, showed me that things have gotten pretty chaotic in the past.

In 1977, James Parilli, a young man in his early 30s who had “little or no experience in village government,” won that year’s April election for mayor by about 200 votes. He beat a former trustee named Joe Felton.

Before the year was out, the new mayor would file a lawsuit “challenging the right of the village board of trustees to appoint department heads.”

Several months before Parilli was elected, the board had passed an ordinance that said all appointments must be made by the corporate authorities, which trustees interpreted as being, well, themselves working as a collective body. In response to the ordinance, Parilli accused the board of “writing laws to their own benefit.”

Parilli’s lawsuit asked a Cook County circuit court judge to decide whether the village board acted legally in appointing an acting building commissioner and an acting village manager.

One day, Parilli got into a shouting match with Trustee Harold Jackson, who had run unsuccessfully for mayor against Parilli in April, because the mayor “refused to sign” the paycheck of the man the village board appointed as acting building commissioner, saying “he is working in an illegal capacity.”

The board basically said two can play that game and so they refused to recognize Parilli’s appointment of an acting fire chief.

That means, the village effectively had no permanent manager, building commissioner or fire chief. Oh, and no permanent police chief. And did I mention that the village’s 38 police patrolmen were calling in “sick” during a salary dispute that year? Yeah, a lot was happening in 1977.

“Morale is crumbling,” James Coughlin wrote for the Herald. “Maywood could become a disaster area.”

In her column, called “Focus,” Herald reporter Jacquelyn Mitchard wrote that Mayor Parilli “says the reason services have declined in Maywood is that trustees have been acting like mayors and mayors have been acting like trustees … Despite shouts of ‘overstepping his authority,’ and ‘poor practical politics,’ Parilli intends to replace department heads as he sees fit.”

By December, the circuit court judge had ruled in favor of Parilli’s temporary appointment powers, but the village board would have the last say. Before the year was out, the board voted to allow two referendum questions to appear on the Dec. 17, 1977 election ballot.

The referendum was Trustee Gary Woll’s idea, according to the Herald. Woll said he wanted a special referendum “to hear the people’s voice.”

In response to the first question of whether or not the village should adopt “the managerial form of municipal government and continue to elect trustees from districts, the terms of office of the currently elected president and trustees to remain unchanged” (back then Maywood trustees were elected by districts and not village-wide), the “electorate voted 1,808 in favor of the measure and 1,062 against.”

In response to the second question of whether or not the board of trustees should “pass an ordinance limiting the president’s power to make temporary appointments to not longer than sixty days and with no temporary appointee being able to succeed himself in office,” the “electorate voted 1,792 in favor of the measure and 1,071 against.”

Those referendum questions would cement the managerial form of government in Maywood for the next 45 years, much to the chagrin of the current mayor.

The fuel between Parilli and the board, and the months-long back-and-forth over who has appointment powers weren’t the only things that felt familiar.

Mitchard wrote about sitting at a board meeting next to a 10-year-old who was “observing the board for a Boy Scout badge in local government.” The boy was curious.

“‘Is this all they ever do?’ he asked, as the arguing and tabling of motions dragged on toward midnight. ‘Don’t they ever decide on anything?”

Some things never change.

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