The eight top elected officials of a Chicago suburb are in jail for what they call "a moral issue" and what a federal judge calls "a displaced act of patriotism."
The eight officials of Carpentersville, a blue-collar village of 29,000 population 45 miles northwest of Chicago, repeatedly refused to obey a federal court order to issue building permits for 11 houses.
The "moral issue" they cite is that the houses would overload the village's sewers, causing basement flooding and polluting the nearby Fox River.
At the same time, the village officials contend that if would cost at least $300,000 to provide adequate sewers and other necessary improvements.
"I won't vote for the permits until the day I die," Orville Brettman, part time president of the village, told U.S. District Court Judge Frank W. McGarr today.
McGarr warned Brettman and his fellow officials that the consequence of their stand "would be unfortunate," and then asked each whether he would obey the order.
"I will not obey," replied village manager George Shaw. After similar answers were given by Brettman and the village's six trustees, McGarr, "with some sadness," ordered deputy U.S. marshals to take all eight into custody for contempt of court.
They were taken to the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a high-rise federal prison in Chicago's Loop, where McGarr said they will stay untill they purge themselves of contempt by granting the permits.
Asked how long the eight might be in jail if they continue to disobey, McGarr replied, "What 's their life expectancy?"
As Brettman left the courtroom, carrying a suitcase he had packed in anticipation of the sentence, he said, "I feel like Davy Carockett at the Alamo, though Crockett got shot and I'm just going to jail." He said he had asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to invervene in the case on behalf of the officials.
However, John McGuire, regional EPA administrator, said his agency has no intention of getting invloved. "The village [sewer] system serves more than 25,000 people," McGuire said, "and it would be hard for us to make a case that there would be any devastating environmental impact by hooking up 11 additional homes."
McGuire added that he sympathizes with the officials but that he believes McGarr had little choice. "When this case came to him, various federal courts had said the permits should be issued. What is a judge going to do when his duty is to enforce a court order that he didn't issue and the people won't obey?"
The dispute dates back to the late 1960s, when, because of sewer over-loading, the EPA ordered a halt to new construction in the Village.
At the time, a Chicago developer, Phillip Rose, was buildng a 235-house subdivision, of which the 11 houses now in question were to have been part. The village revoked the permits for the houses in that subdivision, and Rose's company went bankrupt.
A federal bankruptcy judge in 1975 ordered the village to issue the permits to protect creditors of Rose's company. A U.S. District Court judge later held that the village was not required to issue the permits, but the ruling was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals on the grounds that the village officials had overstepped their authority.
The District Court then ordered the permits issued. After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay the order, McGarr on Dec. 19 cited the officials for contempt, but gave them a few days to reconsider their position.
When they came back into court today, their attorney made a motion to dismiss the contempt citation. McGarr denied the motion and gave them one last chance to reconsider.
When they unanimously refused, the judge told them, "You were here before Christmas, and at that time I explained it was your duty to obey. If it had not been a few days before Christmas I would have put you in custody that day. I asked your attorney to tell you the course you are choosing is ill-advised. If you are being advised you are being patriotic or have constitutional sanctions, you are being ill-advised and ill-informed."