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Palatine mayor accepts partial blame to Stroger's no-show

Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Daily Herald

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger backed out of tonight's scheduled town hall meeting in Palatine at the 11th hour -- accusing village officials of "grandstanding."

In a news release late Tuesday afternoon, Stroger said Palatine officials had tried to sabotage what was supposed to be a community meeting for residents to voice their concerns with county government.

On April 1, Stroger accepted Palatine's invitation to discuss what services the county provides and explain the reasons behind the 1-percentage-point sales tax hike.

Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins said Tuesday evening she understands why Stroger bailed. She blamed a heated debate Monday morning over the meeting's format and what she termed a "critical error" on Palatine's part.

"It's incredibly disappointing and sad for the people interested in why we have the highest sales tax in the nation," she said. "But we made an uncorrectable mistake."

The error Mayor Mullins is referring to was the agenda Palatine released Monday night, which called tonight's event at Harper College a special meeting of the community and economic development committee.

It was the final straw for Stroger, who said he thought he was attending an interactive discussion with Palatine residents -- not a formal meeting with minutes and roll calls.

"I want to speak to the residents of Cook County face to face," Stroger said in the news release. "That is the very reason why I planned to travel to Palatine, however; I will not debate local Palatine elected officials who expect to exploit this opportunity to further their own political agendas."

Stroger also accused Palatine officials of wanting to create a "buffer zone" separating elected officials and business leaders.

"Half the theater was reserved for politicians and the chamber of commerce," said county spokesman Eugene Mullins (no relation to Rita Mullins).

Other developments in the last 48 hours contributed to Stroger pulling out, starting with the rocky sit-down Monday morning at Harper to discuss logistics.

After hot debate over the meeting's format, discussion turned hostile when Palatine Councilman Jack Wagner lost his temper.

"He was yelling at us about paying the county more money," Eugene Mullins said. "They don't know who's running the show out (in Palatine) and we were the brunt of that."

Mayor Rita Mullins said Wagner's outburst "ruffled a lot of feathers."

Wagner, meanwhile, said he got angry when Cook County officials accused Palatine of trying to "ambush" Stroger and then threatened not to come.

Monday's meeting was supposed to be a logistics meeting between Palatine staff and police, with the county. Wagner showed up uninvited, but he denies Palatine was trying to "set up" the county board president.

Palatine also made "outrageous requests," according to Eugene Mullins.

The village said it needed Stroger's office to FedEx multiple copies of a short video on county services he planned to show.

That's news to Palatine's mayor, who says she had no knowledge of the requests.

"I think that sounds outrageous, too. It's over the top," Rita Mullins said. "They could have easily waited until after it was shown."

She attributes the missteps to the absence of Village Manager Reid Ottesen, who was Palatine's liaison to Cook County for the Harper meeting, until he left town recently to take his first vacation in seven years.

"(Ottesen) has been the one negotiating the parameters of the meeting and perhaps the people left in charge are not as experienced," she said. "None of this was done under my direction."

Some suburban officials, though, said Stroger's decision to pull out wasn't a surprise.

State Sen. Matt Murphy and state Rep. Suzie Bassi both doubted ahead of time that Stroger would show, saying he's canceled on public forums before. He did not appear at a county budget hearing Oct. 30 in Skokie and sent a surrogate instead, infuriating residents who had turned out to talk with him.

In Tuesday's news release, Stroger said he will attend community meetings in northwest Cook County in upcoming weeks.

None have been scheduled so far, Eugene Mullins said.

But he added they've reached out to different towns and are close to confirming venues.

Palatine may still be a stop. Rita Mullins said she talked to Stroger's office about setting something up soon.

But it will not be village-sponsored and not more than a couple board members will be allowed to go, she said.

There will still be a meeting

Despite Todd Stroger's absence, the Palatine Village Council will meet as scheduled at 7 tonight at Harper College's Wojcik Conference Center,

1200 W. Algonquin Road
. Residents are invited to express any concerns related to the tax increase and Cook County services.

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