Joliet alley fight: still at it one year later

City manager sits on proposed solution for seven months, critic calls it “vindictiveness by the mayor’

Gene Sorensen (left) and John Sheridan talk on Sept. 15, 2021 about the problems that led to the petition drive to close one end of the alley behind their homes in the Cunningham neighborhood of Joliet.

An awkward dispute over a city alley that has involved the mayor, a political foe and now two city managers has now entered its second year.

It was Sept. 11, 2020, when a city work crew showed up to pull out posts that blocked one end of the alley behind 19 homes including that of John Sheridan, president of the Cunningham Neighborhood Council and a critic of the mayor.

“It’s just vindictiveness by the mayor,” Sheridan said Friday. “Everyone knows it. But no one wants to take him on.”

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said at the time that he had received complaints about the alley being closed off at one end, although it’s never been said who complained. Residents who live there had petitioned the city eight years earlier to have the alley closed off at one end to block off getaways from thieves and others who were creating problems.

Gene Sorensen, a resident who joined in the petition drive to close it on one end, said there also were concerns about vehicles that would pull off Ingalls Avenue and park in the alley. Sorensen objected to the way the posts, located at the Ingalls end of the alley, were removed by the city last year.

“Nobody bothered to check with us,” Sorensen said. “Nobody knocked on my door or sent me a letter.”

Then interim City Manager Jim Hock, who said it was he who ordered the alley reopened after hearing about the complaints, later said he would block it off again if the residents petitioned again. But after a petition was circulated, Hock said a formal policy for alley closures would have to be made.

The City Council Land Use and Legislative Committee in February in a 3-0 vote approved a formal policy that essentially mirrored that used to close off one end of the alley in 2012.

But when the policy was to go to the full council for a final vote the same month, new City Manager James Capparelli pulled it off the agenda. Capparelli, a political ally of the mayor who served on his transition team when O’Dekirk was first elected in 2015, said he talked briefly with the mayor before pulling it off the agenda but the decision was his. Capparelli said he was concerned about whether any city alleys should be closed.

It was an unusual move since Capparelli was basically blocking the will of the council, but the council has not pushed the matter.

“I haven’t given it much thought as to whether it should go to the council as it was,” Councilman Terry Morris, chairman of the Land Use and Legislative Committee, said of the alley policy.

Morris noted Capparelli said he would bring it to the council at some point.

“I’m taking him at his word,” Morris said. “Some things take a little longer than others.”

Capparelli and O’Dekirk did not return calls for comments for this story.

Councilwoman Bettye Gavin, who at public meetings has urged Capparelli to bring the policy to the council for a vote, said he has never explained to her why he has not.

“Capparelli has avoided the conversation,” Gavin said. “He keeps saying he’s going to do something with it. He has never identified what doing something is.”

At a Land Use and Legislative Committee meeting earlier this month, Sheridan urged the committee to take action on the policy they had recommended for approval seven months earlier.

“The city manager works for you folks, and the city manager takes direction from the council,” he told the committee. “I ask that you direct him to put it on an agenda.”

Committee members did not respond, and the matter is not on the agenda for the next council meetings on Monday and Tuesday.