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News

Rialto board appointments mixed in with marquee debate

Sherry Lewandowski speaks to the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority during at Dec. 17 meeting of the board at the Rialto Square Theater in Joliet. Two members were recently re-appointed to the board.
Sherry Lewandowski speaks to the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority during at Dec. 17 meeting of the board at the Rialto Square Theater in Joliet. Two members were recently re-appointed to the board.

JOLIET – Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante rejected claims that his two re-appointments to the governing body of the Rialto Square Theatre last week were politically motivated.

The board appointments have become part of the controversy swirling around the future Rialto marquee.

Joliet resident Mary Beth Gannon, an outspoken critic of the new marquee design, said she thinks Giarrante rushed to reappoint members because some in the anti-marquee group – including her – have expressed interest in being on the board.

“It seems very political,” Gannon said. “We might have a new mayor in the spring. I don’t think he should be making political opponents.”

Giarrante is running for re-election in April.

Giarrante said he reappointed the two members because one of them asked to be put back on the board. He plans to make one other appointment for a vacancy, which was created when David Hacker died in August, but has not received any resumes from the anti-marquee people, Giarrante said.

“If the anti-marquee people were interested in getting on the board, they should have sent in resumes and asked me to keep them in mind. It’s too late,” he said.

Giarrante said he has already talked with two people about the vacant seat and plans to name one of them in January. But he also suggested he would view applicants from the anti-marquee group in the midst of the sign controversy with skepticism.

“They should have put in their names before all this came up if they were truly interested in the Rialto,” he said.

Giarrante’s re-appointments – Mary Babich and Daniel Vera – on Tuesday were met with skepticism by some members of the City Council, whose vote to approve was needed.

Babich’s term expired in 2004 and Vera’s term expired Dec. 1.

The council approved the re-appointments after a closed session. Giarrante said Vera told the mayor he wanted to be reappointed.

“This wasn’t a political move, absolutely not,” Giarrante said.

Councilman Bob O’Dekirk, who is running against Giarrante for mayor in April, said he thought the move was politically charged with the controversy surrounding the Rialto.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” O’Dekirk said, noting that members of the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority board, which oversees the Rialto, have been on expired terms. “I truly like both of the people [who were reappointed]. But the timing is horrible. These appointments should’ve been made years ago.”

The re-appointments were approved, although Councilman Larry Hug abstained and Councilman Jim McFarland passed on his vote. O’Dekirk voted against the appointments.

The re-appointments came while the WCMEAA is moving forward on construction of a new marquee for the theater, which has received a firestorm of criticism from the public.

Giarrante said he didn’t believe he should appoint or re-appoint people to boards like the WCMEAA unless there is a need for it, noting how when he took office, he only made appointments to the Housing Authority of Joliet when there were problems with that board.

“I’m a firm believer of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Giarrante said, adding that it wasn’t uncommon to have appointed terms expire without re-appointments.

The Joliet mayor has four appointments to the seven-member board. The governor appoints three members.

Gannon said she and a couple other residents are sending resumes to both Giarrante and the governor’s office.

• Herald-News News Editor Bob Okon contributed to this story.

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