by Mike Ellis
Hinsdale’ s village president is embarking on his third four-year term this month, having won a contested election by a narrow margin last month.
Tom Cauley, a 27-year resident of the village, moved to Hinsdale from Riverside, having relocated to the Midwest since attending college at the University of Notre Dame. (Cauley is a native of Pittsburgh.)
Cauley’ s public service career commenced ten years ago, when he was endorsed by the Hinsdale Village Caucus to serve as a village trustee, and won a “ quasi-contested” election, with four candidates vying for three open seats.
Two years later, the caucus endorsed Cauley for the office of village president, and he began his first term in May 2009. Four years later, he ran unopposed, and secured his second term in 2013, this time without the endorsement of the caucus.
During Cauley’ s tenure as president thus far, the village board’ s noteworthy accomplishments include launching a road construction program, working to finish developments like Garfield Crossing and another at 55th Street and County Line Road, and moving from the “ credit watch” to a AAA bond rating.
Cauley said compared with when he began serving, he believes the village is now a “ more efficient organization,” and that the board works “ more collaboratively.”
“I view running the village as like running a small company,” he said. “ It’ s a service company, and the residents are the customers.”
This spring, Cauley sought a third term, and defeated trustee Laura LaPlaca, the caucus-endorsed candidate, by a margin of fewer than 125 votes (1,617 to 1,500, according to DuPage and Cook County election results).
While some residents applauded Cauley for the work he has done thus far in the village, others criticized him for seeking a third term—an unprecedented number in the history of the village.
When asked why he pursued another term, Cauley said he enjoys the job, would like to see the road program he started through to completion, and wants to oppose the proposed widening of the Tri-State Tollway.
“The democratic process is working,” he said. “ If people thought I had been in the job too long, they could have not voted for me.”
Although he acknowledged that term limits are practical under certain conditions, Cauley said there is no great need for them in the environment that exists in the Village of Hinsdale.
“Where term limits are more needed is where you have a situation where a politician is actually handing out jobs to employees,” he said, “ and where the politician has financial interests or the ability to appoint people that kind of makes his position more of a permanent position. That’ s not the case in Hinsdale.”
Cauley said out of the entire village staff of roughly 120 employees, only one resides in Hinsdale; and most of the contractors the village hires hail from outside the community.
It’ s not a situation where you can develop a machine in Hinsdale like you can in some cities or municipalities,” he said.
As Cauley begins his third term, he and the current board are prepared to jump right into the road program.
During Cauley’ s first term, the board initiated a 15-year, $90 million road program that he said is now “ halfway done.”
If you reside in Hinsdale, and your street hasn’ t been redone, you’ re not alone: Cauley acknowledged that despite the village’ s increased investment in roadway improvements, many of the residents he spoke with on the campaign trail are still dissatisfied with the quality of the roads in the village.
Cauley said the program began with an emphasis on resolving existing flooding issues, and that the village also had to devote considerable funds to separate sewers, as it was sued by the Environmental Protection Agency for having too many combined sewers.
“We’ re halfway through the program, but I think residents don’ t see the progress, because a lot of it’ s been below ground,” he said. ... “ As soon as my next term starts on May 2, we’ re going to more aggressively attack the road program.”
Since the road reconstruction work has already been lined up for 2017, Cauley said the village cannot initiate any new projects this year; but instead, it is looking to ratchet up repaving efforts.
“We’ re trying to pull forward a lot of the repaving work, which doesn’ t require any engineering,” he said, adding that the village is shooting to complete two to three years’ worth of repaving this year.
This summer, construction will occur in downtown Hinsdale, as roads within the central business district will be repaved. Nicor is currently repairing gas-lines downtown, and Cauley said their work should be completed by July 4. He said much of the construction will be completed at night, and that having conversed with downtown merchants, the village is confident the roadwork “ will not adversely affect any of the businesses.”
As for road reconstruction plans, Cauley said the board hopes to expedite that process as well.
“The plan is to compress the road program, and get all of it done within the next couple of years,” he said.
Perhaps no topic has been more universally discussed in Hinsdale in recent years than downtown parking.
With the new Hinsdale Middle School likely on its way up, it would be accompanied by a 189-space parking garage and deck, with the village having the right to the garage portion, and District 181 utilizing the deck on top.
“Why this is such a good deal for Hinsdale is, a lot of residents don’ t want an unsightly parking garage structure, and a lot of residents don’ t want an underground parking facility,” Cauley said. ... “ So the benefit of the middle school is that you can build a parking structure into the hill there, have it exposed on the north side, so that it’ s not unsightly, because it’ s not a structure you can see, and it’ s not underground.”
Cauley said the plan is to shift merchant and employee parking to the garage, where they will park for free.
According to a study the village commissioned, approximately 15 percent of the downtown street parking is occupied by business owners and employees; and moving this group to the garage should open up the 85 percent parking capacity the same study recommended for the downtown.
Cauley said the garage “should alleviate all of the parking issues that we have downtown.”
Last month, Hinsdale Magazine reported extensively on the possibility that the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (ISTHA) may widen the Tri-State Tollway (Interstate 294) by one or two lanes on each side from Balmoral Ave. near O’ Hare Airport to 95th Street in Hickory Hills.
If pursued, this plan would entail the reconstruction of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad bridge, the temporary or permanent closure of the Hinsdale Oasis, and the possible reduction of space between tollway sound walls and residents’ backyards and green space in parks.
Since the IHSTA board has never spoken publicly about its plans for the Tri-State, Cauley said “ at this point, we can only guess” about the impact such a project would have on village parks and homeowners in east Hinsdale.
He said the village engineer estimated that the sound wall could migrate between 12 and 30 feet westward, depending on how many lanes are added.
“The tollway is the least transparent entity I have ever dealt with,” Cauley said. “They are as secretive as any organization I’ ve ever seen.”
While the tollway board does publish an agenda prior to its meetings, in Cauley’ s opinion, these agendas are “ vague.”
“When we approve a contract in an open meeting, the contract is online; you can get it; you can see what it is you’ re improving,” he said. “ We go to these meetings, and you sit around, and they’ re approving things—we have no idea what the substance of what they’ re talking about involves.”
Tollway board members are not publicly elected, but are rather appointed by the Governor of Illinois, which Cauley believes contributes to the manner in which they conduct business.
“They’ re used to getting their own way; they’ re used to bulldozing over people—and I think that that’ s the plan here,” he said.
As for the oasis, if the tollway decides to permanently close the facility, that could potentially jeopardize the village road program.
The village derives roughly $450,000 through the oasis from sales tax at its restaurants and gas stations on an annual basis.
That money is placed in the village’ s general fund, but Cauley said Hinsdale has been allocating about $2 million from this fund towards the road program in recent years.
“Taken collectively, it’ s the largest sales and food and beverage tax generator in the village,” he said. ... “We need that revenue in order to continue the road program.”
While Cauley believes the village needs to “ step up our opposition” to prospective widening, Hinsdale’ s neighbor to the east is of a different view.
Western Springs village officials have stated there is nothing its village can currently do to oppose expansion, because no official plan has been passed or even released.
Furthermore, Western Springs village president William Rodeghier and village manager Patrick Higgins are on record that it is their opinion that Hinsdale’ s village president candidates made the subject into a campaign issue.
Cauley flatly disagreed with this assessment.
“I think this is exactly the right time to oppose [expansion],” he said. “ I think Western Springs is wrong. I’ ve spoken to former board members of the tollway, and they say that this is the right time to get the residents involved. I’ ve spoken to former state senators who said that this is the right time to get the tollway involved.
“This was not a campaign issue; I think both candidates took the same view that this was something we opposed."