Barwin resignation, Gaskill charges top year’s news in Oak Park
Elected officials, the media and other interested individuals took a tour of the prototype Smart Grid substation in Oak Park Sept. 14.
Top web stories
The five most-viewed stories in 2012 on the Oak leaves website:
1. Oak Park librarian reads 1,000 books, records feat on Goodreads website
2. Mob wives in Elmwood Park stirs debate
3. Fenwick fashion show features friars and styles
4. Tragic case of Catherine Trage; will FBI cold case ever find closure?
5. War is kid stuff in Red Dawn remake
- Oak Park village manager quits
- Oak Park approves $125,000 severance settlement with Barwin
- Barwin contract set stage for resignation
- Korean partnership could bring smart grid program to Oak Park
- River Forest foster parent charged with sexual abuse
- Gaskill case headed to grand jury
- Foster parent indicted; lawyer seeks reduced bond
- Accused foster parent free after bond lowered
- Circle Theatre moving to Chicago
Updated: January 28, 2013 6:08AM
OAK PARK — While everyone prepares for 2013 and a fresh start, Pioneer Press offers Oak Leaves readers the top five stories from 2012. The stories included a change in leadership at Village Hall and the departure of a theater troupe. Here are those and other hightlights.
1. Barwin resigns/new manager coming soon
The first part of the top Oak Park story of the year occurred in February, with Tom Barwin’s resignation as village manager. The second part may or may not happen before 2013: the hiring of a new village manager.
Barwin last met with the village board on Feb. 13, during a special closed session to discuss personnel. He made his resignation public Feb. 21 and his last day was Feb. 29.
Village President David Pope was tight-lipped in the wake of a final settlement with Barwin in March, saying, “Earlier this year the Village Board and Tom met and reviewed the current status of Village operations and progress. We agreed at that time that a change in leadership was appropriate and would enable Tom to pursue future interests.”
Pope said Barwin “resigned within the terms of his employment agreement last month and the village board accepted his resignation.” Asked to elaborate, Pope declined.
Barwin was not given a raise on his $165,000 salary following a February review. He has since been hired as City Manager for Sarasota, FL.
Since March 1, former parking administrator Cara Pavlicek, a former village manager in Downers Grove, has served as interim village manager.
In July the village board selected Robert Slavin and Associates from among four firms interviewed in May to conduct the search for a new manager. That process was expected to conclude in September, but was delayed by internal village board scheduling conflicts.
The weekend of Dec 8-9, the board interviewed six finalists, a process Pope said went well. He said he expected the remainder of the replacement process to take “several weeks.”
2. Smart grid
Last year village officials and Com Ed officials hosted a tour of the utility’s prototype smart grid substation in Oak Park.
In November, the village went further, as representatives from Oak Park, the Korean Smart Grid Institute and other environmental organizations gathered at village hall to sign a memo of understanding on a residential smart grid test project.
Created under the auspices of the Smart City USA Project, an international smart grid collaboration, the project would develop a solar-powered smart grid electrical system in 200 Oak Park homes and several commercial buildings.
Smart Grid technology, which is heavily promoted by Com Ed and supported by Oak Park officials, allows a greater degree of monitoring of individual residential and commercial customers, and faster troubleshooting after storms and outages, according to proponents.
3. Intergovernmental cooperation
Long a topic of discussion among officials at various taxing entities, greater intergovernmental cooperation took a giant step forward in 2012.
Officials from all six of the elected boards governing the village have met regularly since mid-2011. The idea is to figure out how they can save money or become more efficient by cooperating more.
Cooperation doesn’t always mean agreement, however. This was made clear when the Park District of Oak Park withdrew in November from a proposed multi-government facility to be built on the village hall parking lot.
But the Intergovernmental committee continues to meet on a regular basis, including once in December.
4. Gaskill sexual assault charges
Citizens in River Forest and Oak Park were stunned and saddened when longtime social services worker and foster parent Robert Gaskill was charged with 16 criminal counts of sexually molesting two foster children in his care.
Gaskill, 64, was arrested at his home by River Forest police February 3 and jailed in lieu of an astounding $50 million bond.
Gaskill pleaded not guilty and retained defense attorney Ellen Domph. On March 15, a second judge ordered him placed on home arrest and electronic monitoring, after he posted 10 percent of a $250,000 bond.
Prosecutors said Gaskill began sexually abusing the two girls at different times. The first victim was 6 or 7 years old in 1996 when the abuse is alleged to have started, according to prosecutors, while the other victim was “about 12” when the alleged abuse started in 2004.
The defense attorney called into question the girls’ motives for making the accusations, and argued that their allegation came years after their alleged abuse
Prior to working for social service agencies, Gaskill was publisher of the Pioneer Press west group, which published Oak Leaves and Forest Leaves, in the late 1980s.
5. Circle Theater leaving for Chicago
After 27 years in the area -- 25 in Forest Park and the past two years in Oak Park -- the renowned, award-winning local theater company Circle Theater announced it is leaving the western suburbs for the city -- but without a permanent home.
Bob Knuth, producing director and board president for Circle Theatre, said the non-equity volunteer group is moving to Chicago, where it will use various spaces for rehearsals and performances as a roaming theater group.
In 2011, Circle moved to the old Village Players theater building, 1010 Madison St., after that organization ceased staging plays itself and began operating as the Madison Street Theater.