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As Mayor Keith Pekau Pushes Referendum to Expand His Power, Sources Confirm Morale at Village Hall Hits Rock Bottom



By Illinois Review

Illinois Review previously reported about an April 4th referendum that Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau is pushing to expand his power and eviscerate the manager-council form of government. Since running that article, sources inside Village Hall have confirmed to Illinois Review that morale has never been lower.

Pekau was first elected mayor of Orland Park Mayor in 2017 and since that time he has had contentious relationships with his village managers.

In January 2019, then-Village Manager Joseph LaMargo retained international law firm Jones Day to conduct an ethics review on Pekau based on allegations that Pekau was steering village contracts to donors. Jones Day’s investigation raised questions about the village’s insurance vendor, Horton Insurance, owners of which had donated to Pekau’s campaign, as well as Pekau’s own landscaping business, which did business with the village.

Jones Day is the eighth largest law firm in the United States and currently is ranked 12th on the prestigious AmLaw 200 ranking. It served as outside counsel for President Donald Trump’s 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, and is largely credited with influencing President Trump’s Supreme Court nominations.

Pekau was furious that LaMargo initiated the probe, and two days after the April 4, 2019 election, Pekau summoned LaMargo to his office and forced him to resign. LaMargo was one year away from retirement.

Pekau tasked Joe Mitchell of the Orland Park Police Department to complete Jones Day’s investigation, in which Mitchell found no evidence of wrongdoing. Thereafter, Pekau promoted Joe Mitchell to Police Chief, raising his 2020 salary by more than $25,000 in 2021.

But getting rid of LaMargo was not enough for Pekau, who publicly blasted LaMargo as carrying out an illegal and unethical investigation. An apparent violation of the confidential separation agreement that Pekau and LaMargo had entered into, LaMargo filed suit against Pekau and the village for violation of the separation agreement and defamation of LaMargo’s character. The lawsuit remains ongoing in the Cook County Circuit Court.

In the fallout from the Jones Day report and LaMargo’s abrupt separation from the village, the village board convened on April 6, 2019 to subvert a PR crisis, hiring Reputation Partners Communications at $4000/month to rehabilitate the village’s reputation.

After a protracted search, Pekau eventually hired George Koczwara to become the new village manager. Koczwara is one of the most credentialled village managers ever to have served in Orland Park.

But now Pekau is seeking to eviscerate the council-manager form of government that Orland Park has enjoyed since 1983 and replace it with a Chicago-style mayor model that will diminish Koczwara’s role at the village. While Pekau contends that this has nothing to do with Koczwara, the City of Janesville, Wisconsin, recently announced that Koczwara is among four finalists to be the next village manager of Janesville.

Burning through two village managers in such a short period of time is unusual. It raises the question if Pekau and his management style – not the village managers or the council-manager form of government – are to blame.

Sources confirm to Illinois Review that morale at Village Hall is at rock bottom. Many village employees are counting down their days to retirement, keeping their heads down and going to great lengths to avoid any interaction with Pekau.

And LaMargo isn’t the only former employee to be suing the village either. Former Parks and Recreation employee Liam Walsh filed suit against Orland Park for discrimination and failure to rehire, among other claims, after Walsh allegedly was bullied and attacked by a co-worker for being gay.

Walsh had been a summer seasonal employee of the village since 2016 and was 22 at the time of the alleged attack. Walsh’s amended complaint alleges that Walsh’s superior effectively terminated Walsh over the incident and was rewarded by the village with a promotion.

Pekau’s involvement in the Walsh matter is unclear. But at the very least it suggests a toxic work environment at the village, where bullying is encouraged and rewarded, and good employees like LaMargo and Koczwara are run out of town.


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