Citing serious concerns about the village president's leadership, a group of Elmwood Park residents is exploring options to remove her from office.
The Friends of the Village of Elmwood Park is upset about the way Village President Audrey Viau is governing. To remedy the situation before the April 2013 general election — when Viau's sixth term is up — residents are looking at how to remove her from office, possibly by the end of the summer.
According to village resident and group member Maureen Bagg, the Friends are looking at three options:
- Petitioning the Village Board for her removal; or
- Collecting hard evidence to show gross negligence and asking a judge to order her removal.
"Recall is a long and drawn out process, and petitioning the board carries some concern because we get could a split vote and then what do we do?" Bagg explained. "We think we'll have enough information to give to a lawyer to show a judge that supports Audrey's removal for gross negligence."
Trying to convince a judge to go their way could also be the most expedient method open to the Friends, she added.
Patch is looking into whether or not that option is viable, and we will update this story when we get the information.
The reasons why
Nick Haas, another member of the group, said from where he sits, it looks as though Elmwood Park is being run by Viau alone with little input from trustees. He outlined a couple of reasons for supporting Viau's ousting:
- Closed door meetings about Walmart before the project was shared with trustees in open session; and
- Knowing that the Taylor Home property is losing money and not being transparent with board members and residents.
Haas said he blames residents for not being engaged by attending Village Board meetings or being part of committees, but he said trustees shoulder some of the responsbility as well.
"Citizens should go to board meetings, and I'm part of that group who wasn't engaged," he said. "But now that we're going we see the incompetence and it's unacceptable. Why haven't board members done anything until now?"
Haas admits there is an issue finding someone to take on the village presidency if Viau is removed and that she has run unopposed for several years. But Bagg said a couple of people have recently come forward who said they'd be willing to serve out the remainder of Viau's term and use a "see how it goes" view before deciding whether or not to run for election in April.
Trustee David Voss told Patch he was not aware a group was working to remove Viau from office. He supports Viau's leadership because he said she works hard for the village.
"Audrey is very dedicated and always has the best welfare for the village in mind," he said. "She puts in a lot of hours for us."
Elmwood Park purchased the former Taylor Home property - a half-way house for delinquent teen boys - in 2005 and located its Village Hall in one of the buildings. Since then, several tenants have come and gone, and the anticipated income has not become a reality. Haas said he thinks the continual loss of income is one reason why Viau is pushing so hard for Walmart.
"Audrey wants Walmart in the village, but it's one bad thing to cover another bad thing," he said.
Walmart has an option to purchase the old Kohl's property at Lathrop and Durand for a new Neighborhood Market store, one of three potential market sites in eastern Racine County. The other two possibilities are on Washington Avenue in Mount Pleasant and on 4-Mile Road in Caledonia.
In a story from The Journal Times, residents contend Viau was in talks with Walmart for weeks before the project was discussed with board members. Viau denied that any back-room discussions took place.
The project hinges on the Elmwood Park Planning Commission approval for the rezoning of a residential lot behind the commercial lot.
Voss said Viau didn't go behind the board's back about anything to do with Walmart and that it's appropriate for trustees to not get involved in development projects until after the Planning Commission first does its work.
"The Village Board isn't involved until it's time to hear from residents during a public hearing and then to vote on the final stages of the project," he said. "The Plan Commission needs to first work on the site plan and once that's done, then trustees review and vote, if necessary."
Turns out, the Planning Commission is another hot-button topic for the Friends group.
"Our Plan Commission only has five members when it should have seven," said Haas. "Audrey has had the applications for months of two very qualified residents to fill the empty two spots, but she isn't doing anything about it. So, really, our Plan Commission is operating illegally."
According to village ordinance, the Plan Commission "shall consist ofseven members as follows: the Village President, who shall be its presiding officer; two Trustees and four citizens. Citizen members shall be persons of recognized experience and qualifications."
Bagg and her husband, Alan, live next door to the residential parcel under rezoning consideration. She said if the zoning is approved and the Walmart is built, the new store will be about 25 feet from her home and that violates the village's land use plan.
"That corner needs development, but not like this," she said. "We are a quiet, residential, park-like and tree-filled village. Our land use plan clearly outlines two acres for commercial use, some for institutional and the rest is residential. The board needs to listen to the will of the people."
Elmwood Park Village Board meetings are the second Thursday of the month at Village Hall, 3131 Taylor Ave.
Patch attempted to call Viau for comment, but she did not answer the phone. We were unable to leave a message because Viau does not have an answering machine, voicemail or email.