Crestwood residents gave trustees and the mayor an earful Thursday evening after the board voted 3-2 to pay the legal bills for its police chief, who is on leave following allegations she was involved involved in a scheme to cover up the distribution of water from a tainted village well.
Trustees, however, made an amendment to the motion that would require Chief Theresa Neubauer – who also once served as the former water department supervisor – to sign a promissory note to pay legal fees back to the village if she pleads guilty or is found guilty by a jury. Neubauer is on paid administrative leave, although she still technically is the police chief.
Trustees Patricia Theresa Flynn and John Toscas – two newcomers to the board -- voted against paying any legal fees. Trustee James Fowler was absent
Neubauer, along with former water department supervisor Frank Scaccia, was indicted on 23 counts in August with the indictment outlining allegations of a systemic cover-up. Both were charged with violating federal laws against making false statements in government documents.
A 2009 Tribune investigation found that village officials kept drawing water for more than two decades from the tainted well even though the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency had told them in 1986 that it was contaminated with vinyl chloride and dichloroethylene, toxic chemicals related to the dry-cleaning solvent perchloroethylene, or perc.
Some residents at Thursday's meeting didn't like the idea of paying any legal fees.
"A promissory note means nothing," said resident William Gannon during the public portion of the one-hour meeting. "She might not have the money. She could just declare bankruptcy and that's it."
Resident Lorraine Engstrom told the board that Neubauer is the "fall guy" and then asked Crestwood Mayor Robert Stranczek to tell her who ordered Neubauer to distribute water from the well.
"Someone must have told her to do it," said Engstrom, who then said the mayor's father, former mayor Chester Stranczek, should be held responsible. "He [Chester] must have known what was going on."
The current mayor said no one is the "fall guy" and that it is now up to a jury to decide. The mayor would not talk about specifics of the incident with residents.
His father, Chester, who led Crestwood for nearly 40 years and boasted that he ran the village of 11,000 like a business, is not mentioned by name in the federal indictment. His son became mayor in 2007.
Resident Linda Roman told the board that she supported to village paying for the legal fees.
"There is no proof that she has done anything," said Roman. "She served this village for over 30 years."
Trustee Flynn, who voted against paying the legal bills, said in a statement that she can not support using public funds for a criminal indictment.
"This vote to cover or not to cover legal bills for a village employee has not come easy for anyone," said Flynn. "But there is no doubt that there has been some wrong doing relating to the use of the well. The use of public funds is for public purposes."
The Tribune found that Crestwood fended off authorities for more than two decades by telling them the well would be used only in emergencies. The village – known for its penny-pinching ways – allegedly and secretly supplemented their water supplies for more than 20 years.
It is unclear, however, if anyone got sick from drinking the tainted well water. A 2010 study by the Illinois Department of Public Health found that cancer rates in Crestwood are "significantly elevated" and that toxic chemicals in the village's drinking water could have contributed, but researchers could not make a definitive link.