JOLIET – The motivation behind the group resignation of the entire Rialto Square Theatre board was never made clear as individual board members announced their decisions at a special meeting Thursday.
Meanwhile, a pool of candidates to replace the old board is developing quickly.
The board resigned at a special meeting, after approving an intergovernmental agreement with Joliet that will likely assure $500,000 in city funding for the theater in 2017.
One board member, Mary Babich, said during the meeting that the resignations were connected to the $500,000 funding.
"We're playing politics with the city," Babich said after the meeting. "It was politics at its finest."
She would not elaborate.
Outgoing board Chairman Dan Vera countered Babich's statements during the meeting, calling the resignations "voluntary."
"There's no stipulation for our resignations," Vera said.
Interviewed after the meeting, Vera said Mayor Bob O'Dekirk did not ask for his resignation and had told him privately that he was not seeking resignations.
No one but Babich offered an explanation as to why the entire board was resigning.
The city and Rialto board were at odds through much of last year, jeopardizing the annual funding that Joliet typically provides the theater.
O'Dekirk on resignations
But O'Dekirk said Friday that it was wrong to interpret his comments at a Dec. 14 city council meeting as a suggestion that Rialto board members should resign.
At that meeting, O'Dekirk asked if the council would consider funding the Rialto if he asked for resignations from city-appointed board members. O'Dekirk said he was looking to find a way to resolve the funding issue because it was apparent the council at that time was unwilling to budget $500,000 for the Rialto.
"I wasn't suggesting that people resign," O'Dekirk said. "I was asking the council the question to see if this would change their minds to fund the theater."
The mayor said he never asked any Rialto board members for their resignations.
"The only conversation I had with any of the board members about their status on the board was with Dave Thornton," O'Dekirk said.
Thornton was one of three board members whose term expired in December. He was the only one of those three appointed by the mayor, who has four appointees on the Rialto board. The other three are appointed by the governor.
O'Dekirk and Thornton met to discuss his spot on the board, and Thornton said he did not want to be reappointed.
"I told him I wasn't interested in seeking another term, and he was fine with that," Thornton said.
The terms of Cynthia Tyler and Vicki Murphy also ended in December, but their appointments are made by the governor. If they had not resigned, they would have served until a new appointment was made or they were reappointed.
Vera, Babich and the other two Rialto board members who resigned – Mary Beth Gannon and Michael Murray – were still mid-term.
The future board
There does appear to be strong interest in serving on the board of the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, the legal name for what is commonly called the Rialto board.
"I've heard from a number of people who reached out to me about it," O'Dekirk said. "I think I'm going to open it up and have people apply for it. That said, this is an ongoing business, and it can't be left stagnant."
Vera said at least eight names have been submitted to Gov. Bruce Rauner.