Ballerina Seeks to Launch as Riverside President
The election of a new village president in Riverside didn’t get much attention this spring, as it was an undisputed race. But the winner of that race, Joseph Ballerine, is preparing to take the seat of outgoing two-term president Ben Sells since the start of the new year.
When Ballerina is sworn in on May 6, along with directors Megan Claucherty, Aberdeen Marsh-Ozga and Doug Pollock, who also showed up unopposed, he will be on the march.
“As of Jan. 1, Ben has allowed me to attend every meeting he attended, anything he thought would be transferred to the new administration,” Ballerina said, checking off the meetings Sells had with the officials of the Corps of Engineers of the army and the village. engineer regarding the Des Plaines River flood wall project as well as Sells’ meetings with the village director, Jessica Frances.
Ballerina was also present with the village council during its executive sessions, closed to the public, where the village council discussed staff changes resulting from the restructuring of the village hall, real estate matters and other sensitive matters. .
The only discussions that Ballerine did not participate in were those regarding solicitor-client privilege, as he was not a sworn member of the body.
“From the start I have been extremely lucky,” said Ballerina. “This is the first time that one jurisdiction over another has been granted so much access and mentorship.”
It is certainly the first time in recent memory that such a long and open transition has occurred at Riverside.
When Sells took over the presidency in 2013, he also ran unopposed. But, his predecessor, Michael Gorman, was not a political ally or close friend, like Ballerina. While Sells took on the role of chairman after serving six years as a trustee, he still stepped into the new role cold.
“There was no transition when I took office,” Sells said. “I knew what I knew as a trustee.”
As soon as it was clear that Ballerina would be running unopposed, Sells said, he asked Ballerina to be part of the inner circle.
“I want him to know as much as possible about what’s going on so that he has a solid foundation because the decision-making doesn’t stop,” Sells said. “Anything I can do to prepare him better is what I have tried to do.”
A number of critical decisions that have been made or are on the horizon will have an immediate impact on Ballerina’s administration. The first, a complete restructuring of jobs in the village hall, is already underway.
In a month’s time, Police Chief Thomas Weitzel will retire and Fire Chief Matthew Buckley will assume the new role of Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management, overseeing all aspects of the village policing and fires. .
Last week, the village council approved the restructuring plan by changing job titles and salary scales in the village code. The construction department will be overhauled and overseen by the still-unknown village deputy director, another new post.
Those employed in the building department, including the new post of village planner, will report to the Deputy Director.
Ballerina will also have to guide the village council through the thicket that is the proposed flood wall of the Des Plaines River, currently in the design stage. The concept of the flood wall is still rejected by those that it will have a direct impact on West Avenue and, more recently, by those who believe the wall will damage Frederick Law Olmsted’s design and undermine the National Historic Landmark designation. from the village.
“It’s going to be tricky, but I think the Army Corps of Engineers needs to understand that we’re going to build something that will be here for generations in a historic monument,” Ballerina said of the flood wall. “The product they offer us has to be in line with the community. It is not just anywhere. It is a special community and what is done here has to be at that level. “
While Ballerine, 61, has 10 years of experience as a village administrator and another 15 as a member of the Riverside Parks and Recreation Board, serving in the chair of the village president is a different responsibility.
In addition to simply leading village council meetings, the president gives direction on the policies that the village council will pursue.
“How many initiatives do administrators offer? A handful, ”Sells said of the president’s importance in setting the agenda. “It’s work. … You are the one who must have a vision for the future. “
Ballerina said he already has a few changes in mind. First, he wishes to empower the presidents of the various village advisory commissions by inviting them to report directly to the village council on the initiatives they lead.
He also wants the village administrators who serve as liaison with these commissions to provide regular updates on what these commissions are doing.
“I really want the commissions to feel that they are a big cog in this village,” said Ballerine.
Ballerina said he also wanted the village to do a better job of recruiting residents to sit on the commissions, to do more outreach to engage more people.
“We have to cast a wider net,” Ballerina said. “There are so many volunteers in this village. We need to reach out to community organizations and let them know that we are looking for people. “
Ballerina also said he would like to find a way to incorporate Zoom technology into village meetings in the future, after the pandemic, to enable not only people like the village engineer and even residents who wish to do so. public comments to attend without physically making the trip to town hall.
“If we have a good hybrid system, it will save us time and money,” Ballerina said. “The goal is to learn from what we’ve been through this year.”
While Sells says there is probably no incoming president with as much experience as Ballerina, the new president called the responsibility onerous.
“It’s been a long road and now to say that this is where I am from is a great experience,” said Ballerine. “I cannot express the gratitude I have for this village.”