Lockport alderman breaks 110-meeting streak of no votes
By Tony Graf email@example.com March 3, 2011 7:52PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
LOCKPORT — Alderman Tom Kelly made one of his characteristic wisecracks before the city council meeting began on Wednesday.
When someone mentioned that half of the city’s aldermen were absent, Kelly remarked: “They’re all in Wisconsin.”
It’s really not a normal meeting unless Kelly adds his quick wit — to complement his staunch fiscal conservatism — at one point or another.
However, Wednesday’s meeting was by no means normal.
Far from it. For on Wednesday night, the audience witnessed a milestone — something not seen in more than 41/2 years of Lockport City Council history.
Tom Kelly voted yes to approve the city’s payroll.
In the 110-plus regular meetings that have taken place since June 2006, Kelly has voted no on the payroll at every single meeting he has attended.
He has steadfastly voted no — often in a low, deadpan voice — in a symbolic protest of the significant pay raises given to top-level city staff back in 2006.
Kelly does not mean to criticize employees’ work, but he did not believe the city could afford the raises.
“I thought the pay raises were extraordinary, for an increase, percentage-wise,” Kelly said in a Thursday interview. “I just felt they were big jumps from wherever they were.”
Kelly acknowledges that the salary issue does not stick out today as much as it has in the past. In a budget-cutting measure last year, the city froze the wages of nonunion employees.
“So it’s less painful, as it were, to me personally,” Kelly said. “But yeah, when this started out, I just kept doing it, symbolically.”
What made him change?
On Wednesday, a practical matter ended the streak of symbolic protest.
Mayor Dev Trivedi announced the agenda item: payroll for the period ending Feb. 20. Alderman Bob Morris made the motion to approve.
Four aldermen were present, plus Trivedi.
The other four aldermen were absent, but attendance was sufficient to conduct city business.
City Attorney Ron Caneva said: “Because of the number of aldermen absent, I just want to make it known: Any motion that requires an obligation of the city requires a majority of the council holding office.”
“So we can’t do it?” Kelly said.
“You can do it ...” Caneva said.
“But we need all yes votes,” Morris said.
“You need all yes votes,” Caneva said.
A silence fell over the room.
“Look at me, right, Your Honor?” Kelly said to Trivedi, as laughter erupted.
“Can I give a speech now, then?” Kelly asked Trivedi. The mayor allowed him to proceed.
“Because I’m going to vote yes, I’d better give a speech,” Kelly said, prompting more chuckles.
“My repeated votes of no for the payroll have to do with the particular size of it,” he said. “It was never my intent to impede the staff from getting paid. So, Your Honor, I will be voting in favor of that motion.”
Alderman Robert Perretta then seconded the motion, and a roll call was taken. The vote was 5-0, with Kelly voting yes.
Kelly is serving his third term as an alderman in Lockport’s 3rd Ward. He has clashed many times with the council majority. However, Trivedi last year referred to Kelly as “my budget leadoff guy.”
Kelly, 68, is the former president of the Beverly Bank of Lockport and First Savings of Will County. He is a former member of the Lockport Area Development Commission. Kelly also has worked as a fraud investigator for the Will County state’s attorney’s office, according to his biography on the city’s website, www.lockport.org.
He has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Regis University in Denver, and a graduate degree in law from Loyola University in Chicago.
Kelly, a father of five and grandfather of 10, also is a past president of the Lockport Rotary and the Lockport Lions Club.
He speaks fondly of his years of participation at Old Canal Days, and his humor is well-appreciated at long council meetings.
His reference Wednesday to absentee Wisconsin lawmakers, during the budget battle in that state, is just one example.
Kelly has backed up his fiscal conservatism with action regarding his own pay.
Last year, the council approved a resolution providing for voluntary donations of 10 percent of council members’ salary back into city coffers for the next fiscal year. The proposal was supported by Aldermen Dick Van Dyke and Kelly.
On Thursday, Kelly said he has thought about voting yes on the payroll in the past.
“I thought about it at Christmastime a couple years: ‘Peace on Earth. Goodwill towards men.’ But I remain strong,” Kelly said. “But last night, you know, these guys are not going to get paid. ... That was never my goal. It was a symbolic vote.”
Council watchers, this was one for the ages. Catch the meeting on Lockport Community Television (Channel 6).
On Wednesday night, “I’ve had it!” suddenly became, “The ayes have it.”