Question About $50,000 Grant to City Ignites Country Club Hills Council Meeting (Country Club Hills, IL) – The Country Club Hills City Council meeting Monday night turned into a sparring match between the mayor, aldermen and residents, culminating with city police officers escorting several unhappy attendees out.
The gloves came off soon after Mayor James Ford gave his report, which included a resolution to accept a grant for $50,000 from the Illinois Abandoned Residential Property Relief Program.
As Ford called for a vote to accept the grant, 1st Ward Ald. John Edwards asked why the resolution was being pushed through by the mayor, without input from the council. He asked about the conditions of the grant, how it was to be used, and asked why the mayor had not given council members the opportunity to review the grant and resolution, as the resolution and grant information had been provided at the meeting, not before.
Ford explained that the grant is to be used to acquire and demolish abandoned buildings in the city. He then said the grant came in that day and needed to be taken care of, and called for a vote on the resolution, which passed.
When Edwards, who chairs the Education, Parks and Rec Committee, gave his report, he asked the mayor to clarify the duties of his position as chair of the committee. He said he asked for clarification because residents had been complaining to him about basketball courts with no hoop, and other city parks and other recreational facilities not being utilized to their best capacity. He said he had no good answers for his constituents because he had been given no clear answers.
Ford repeatedly reminded Edwards of his “open-door” policy, telling the alderman that he could call or email the mayor at any time. Edwards asked the mayor to take the time during the meeting and explain his role publicly. The mayor declined, telling Edwards to call or email, and he would get back to the alderman as time permitted.
Ford then opened the meeting to public comment.
Dr. Cornel Darden Jr., President & CEO of the Southland Black Chamber of Commerce, led off. He asked the mayor why the city was delaying moving on a business license application. He also asked about other requirements of doing business in the city, such as needing to be a member of the local, seemingly inoperational, Country Club Hills Chamber of Commerce.
Darden told the council that the city’s delay on the license, and other requirements such as needing indiscriminate approval from the mayor, were draining the business owner’s pocketbook, jeopardizing her chances of the business succeeding.
The discussion grew more heated as Darden accused the mayor of lying about him, with the mayor responding, “Don’t call me a lie [sic]. Call the newspaper a lie [sic]. They lied about your criminal activities.”
Public comments then resumed. Residents who followed Darden included the owner of the business in question, Deborah Reeves, and a number of residents speaking in support of her. Reeves stated that she has been reaching out to the mayor constantly without response, and although he has final say in approving her business license, she cannot get ahold of him. According to Reeves’ statement, she has sunk thousands of dollars into a storefront operation offering body contouring and teeth whitening services and cannot even get a lease or business license because the Mayor Ford has become unresponsive.
Nearly every resident who took the podium spoke about problems with management of the village in general, and dissatisfaction with Ford specifically.
Ford was dismissive and argumentative with nearly every resident who spoke, constantly interrupting and banging his gavel when he disagreed.
When a resident questioned Ford’s policies and management of the parks and recreation facilities, this opened the door to 5th Ward Ald. Anthony Davis, echoing Ald. Edwards, saying his constituents have also been complaining about the management of city parks and recreational facilities.
Davis also asked the mayor about billing, contracts and lease agreements for the city’s music theater. Davis said he went over the facility’s records, and he had trouble understanding the contracting and billing system.
Ford responded that because of the pandemic, only smaller, private functions had been held at the facility, and because they were smaller, one-of-a-kind events, lease agreements were made on an as-needed basis.
Upon providing their final statements before the close of the meeting, most of the aldermen provided opinions that the city should take a look at their business license ordinances, and bring it to the Law and Ordinance Committee in order to refine the process. During his address, Ald. Edwards was vocal about his disapproval of the mayor’s tyrannical behavior and implored the rest of the council, and members of the community, to voice their concerns.