Tinley Park sues former planning director over failed development
The Village of Tinley Park filed a lawsuit on May 1 against former Planning Director Amy Connolly in the wake of a controversy stemming from Connolly's attempts to change zoning laws to allow for a low-income housing development.
According to the Edgar County Watchdogs (ECW), a government oversight group that has followed the controversy since its onset in 2015, Connolly faces repayment of her salary and punitive damages if the court decides in favor of Tinley Park. The case was filed by the village’s newly elected officials on the day they took office, assuming the seats of others voted out of office because of the scandal, according to the Watchdogs.
Connolly joined the village in 2007 and held her position throughout the development of Tinley Park’s Legacy Plan in 2009. The plan designates certain areas as corridors for commercial real estate in an effort to create a walkable downtown. It mandates that any developments in those corridors must have street-level commercial space.
As planning director, Connolly had struggled to attract development to downtown Tinley Park and eventually sought to surreptitiously change the zoning code to get around the street-level requirement, according to the lawsuit. Through these changes, which did not follow statutory requirements, Connolly secured a low-income housing development from the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation.
“Amy Connolly worked in concert with Buckeye behind the scenes to circumvent and defeat that mandate in improper ways, but was foiled in her scheme by citizen sleuths and concerned local residents who saw through what she and Buckeye were doing and raised holy hell about it at Village Board meetings in February and March 2016,” the ECW posted on their Illinois Leaks website.
The scandal and community outrage that followed led to resignations, complaints and, in last month’s elections, an ousting of several township government mainstays who had been tainted by the controversy.
After losing the election, former Mayor David Seaman and other officials announced that they would be settling a suit brought against the village by Buckeye with a $2.5 million settlement, a decision that has not sat well with village residents. The ECW has been particularly critical of the suit, arguing that it is without merit, as the zoning code never supported such a project, and that the village should not settle by paying off the developer with village funds.
The ECW and, presumably, Tinley Park residents, have been somewhat mollified by the suit against Connolly.
“To sell out one’s own town and community to an out-of-state developer … is arguably one of the worst things that a public official could ever do, especially knowing all the while that what the developer wanted to do to the village would completely destroy the carefully-crafted [development plan] that Tinley Park had in place for years and had worked on so very hard,” the ECW wrote.
Connolly is accused of willful and deliberate misconduct, abandoning her fiduciary duties and working against the interests of Tinley Park. The village has asked for a trial by jury and is seeking the recovery of her salary between April 2015 and May 2016, as well as punitive damages.
“[O]ne can only hope that the Village of Tinley Park accepts no settlement and the people ultimately have their day in court to compel Amy Connolly to explain her actions to a jury on the public record,” the ECW argued.