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Waukegan council stalls mayoral proposals as election looms

Waukegan Mayor Robert Sabonjian. | Special for Sun-Times MediORG XMIT: CST1303081320501973

Waukegan Mayor Robert Sabonjian. | Special for Sun-Times Media ORG XMIT: CST1303081320501973

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Updated: June 2, 2013 2:09AM

WAUKEGAN — Next week’s mayoral election cast a long shadow over Monday night’s City Council meeting, as aldermen opposed to Robert Sabonjian’s re-election blocked a series of initiatives emerging from his office.

Sixth Ward Ald. Larry TenPas, who supported 1st Ward Ald. Sam Cunningham’s bid for mayor earlier this year, began the flurry when he used a parliamentary move to shelve two Sabonjian-backed appointments — Homer Benavides and Diane Verratti — to the Waukegan Port Authority.

When Sabonjian asked why, the veteran alderman noted that two council members were absent, but he also pointed to April 9.

“We might possibly have a new mayor,” said TenPas, adding that delaying the appointments would be “a courtesy to yourself or whoever might be elected.”

Sabonjian responded by using executive privilege to enact a temporary, 30-day appointment in each case, saying “if I’m re-elected, I will bring (the nominations) back to you.” TenPas spoke up to object, saying “you are sending a bad signal to your council,” and he and Sabonjian briefly argued about whether or not the alderman had been recognized to speak.

“Wow,” said TenPas after Sabonjian moved on to the next item on the agenda.

Cunningham, who endorsed City Clerk Wayne Motley after finishing second to him in the Democratic primary, weighed in when he made a motion to hold over the appointment of Demar Harris to the Waukegan Housing Authority.

“It has always been customary that we hold off all business from the city of Waukegan until (voters decide) who the next leader is going to be,” Cunningham said, turning to Sabonjian. “I don’t know what you’re accustomed to coming from the county (board), but I’m asking you, your honor, to allow this process to move forward and not be an adversary.”

Sabonjian responded by pointing out that one of outgoing Mayor Richard Hyde’s final acts in May 2009 was appointing department heads, including the installation of Artis Yancey as police chief.

“When I was sworn in, that night, the appointment of the new police chief was made. They asked me if I wanted to hold it over,” Sabonjian said, “(and) I felt that it was in the best interest of the community for that appointment to move forward.”

Sabonjian added that he had discussed Harris’ proposed appointment with Motley, saying that “they need (someone) on the housing board quickly to get up to speed.” He ended up enacting another 30-day appointment for Harris.

Also encountering a roadblock was the passage of a $129 million appropriation ordinance that sets the city’s spending limit for the fiscal year, which starts May 1. TenPas asked to hold the matter over, saying he wanted the council to have more time to review the proposal.

A final holdover came when Cunningham shelved Sabonjian’s request for a 1 percent increase in the city’s hotel/motel tax, a proposal that would generate funds specifically for the hiring of economic development staffers.

Cunningham questioned why the money was geared solely toward hiring new personnel, noting that the budget doesn’t include local funds for road repairs. Seventh Ward Ald. Lisa May said she supported the hotel tax proposal because “we have a void in economic development in this city, (and) don’t think that we aren’t going to address roads, because we will get Motor Fuel Tax funds.”

Technically, the appropriations ordinance and hotel-tax increase were held over until the council’s April 15 meeting, or six days after the election. If Sabonjian is defeated by either Motley or independent candidate Susana Figueroa, the new mayor would be sworn in May 6.

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