What to know about Roscoe trustee candidate Tony Keene


Photo: Amy Ryan Photography

Update 3/22/2023: Trustee Anthony Keene attended Tuesday night's Village of Roscoe's meetings in person. According to trustee Justin Plock, Keene has moved back to Roscoe from California. He is up for reelection on April 4.

Roscoe trustee Anthony Keene is running for reelection to the Village of Roscoe Board in the Apr. 4 election. After Keene retired in 2019 from a long career as an environmental health and safety manager, he was elected trustee for the first time. An early edition of Rockton-Roscoe News featured our interview with him. Since he came out of retirement in November 2021, Keene has attended Village board meetings remotely via Zoom. He now works in Mojave, CA as an EHS Manager, monitoring environmental health and safety for PPG Aerospace Coatings & Sealants Manufacturing.

On the board, Keene has often been a stickler for safety issues and gave vivid examples at Village meetings of why safety is important. At a June 2021 meeting, he warned that coyotes seemed to be "less afraid of interacting with humans. I would hate to see some child thinking it was a puppy or a dog and getting bit."

Keene was one of the strongest supporters of Roscoe's trick-or-treating changes, saying it was safer for kids on Saturdays than on Halloween. "I think we had a tremendous success," he said in 2021. At his home in Chicory Ridge, he ran out of candy in an hour and 15 minutes, so he took his wife out for dinner. But he admitted that, when it comes to Saturday trick-or-treating, there was still a "learning curve." Chicory Ridge Park was planned before he took office, but he attended the dedication in 2019.

Going to California

Keene announced his career move to California at a meeting in December 2021, saying he had been "doing consulting work outside of the state, and will be attending meetings when he is home and virtually when he is away." As it turned out, he has been attending almost every meeting virtually, but rarely asking questions or making comments anymore. Without a video camera turned on, some community members don't know what he looks like.

Of course, other trustees, staff, and residents have also used the Zoom meeting option. Video recordings of those meetings are available on YouTube.

Even though Keene no longer sits in his old seat to the left of Village President Mark Szula, he still votes with Szula's supporters: Plock, Mallicoat, and Dunn. Keene voted to keep trick-or-treating on Saturday, to allow townhomes to be built on Roscoe Road, to put permanent LED lighting around the roofline of Village Hall, and to approve the Waste Management contract. He also voted remotely to allow Village employees to work remotely.

At the Nov. 15, 2022 Village board meeting, Village President Mark Szula took the time to read a statement in praise of Keene. Szula said Keene was in California overseeing a "product critical to the defense industry and the safety of our armed forces." PPG Aerospace does make coatings for the US military, as well as for civilian aircraft. Keene had previously worked as a safety manager for Valspar powder paint coatings, so a former colleague recruited him. Szula said, "Anthony has maintained his residence here in Roscoe where his wife and daughter reside and has continued in his role as Village trustee uninterrupted throughout."

Legal inquiries

Given his electronic attendance at meetings, many residents are asking if Keene should really be representing Roscoe. At the February 22 board meeting, trustee Carol Gustafson cited a document issued by the 17th Judicial Circuit Court on Nov. 15, 2022, which stated that Keene had temporary "sole and exclusive possession" of an apartment 20 miles south of Mojave, in Lancaster, CA - more than 1,900 miles southwest of Village Hall and currently about twice as warm.

Gustafson asked Village of Roscoe attorney Josef Kurlinkus to report back to the board on Keene's residency status and his eligibility to serve as a Roscoe trustee.

Some people had already made up their minds. During the public comment section of that meeting, Michael Sima, who lives in Promontory Ridge, called for Keene to resign from the board if he's not living in Roscoe. He asked for Keene not to be allowed to vote at the meeting, but Kurlinkus said that ruling would be inappropriate at this time. Sima also asked for Keene's votes for the previous year to be disallowed. Though Keene was participating in that meeting remotely, he did not respond.

None of the other trustees commented during the meeting. Village President Mark Szula assured Gustafson he would have an answer on Keene's eligibility before the Mar. 7 board meeting. Gustafson is challenging Szula for the Village President post in the April 4 election.

Michael Sima is one of the candidates running against Keene in April's trustee election, on the same ticket as Carol Gustafson. Gustafson's ticket is called Citizens for a Better Roscoe, while Szula is seeking reelection on the same ticket as Keene. Szula even turned in Keene's candidate paperwork for him in late November. But Keene collected his own signatures. Trustee Justin Plock says, "It’s my understanding that Keene asked Szula to turn in his paperwork because he had to catch an early morning flight that day." It is common, legal, and ethical to circulate and sign petitions for other candidates, even multiple candidates of the same party. Roscoe elections are non-partisan. 

Besides Keene, Szula's ticket, called Moving Roscoe Forward, also includes trustee Michael Dunn and current ZBA chairman Jay Durstock. Justin Plock and Stacy Mallicoat are not up for reelection this time, but are active on social media talking about the accomplishments of the existing board under Szula.

"No comment at this time"

Asked for any comments in support of his eligibility to serve as a trustee, or his plans to return, Keene replied, "No comment at this time." We reached out to Szula and Kurlinkus for further information, but did not receive a response before March 7.

Then, as the Mar. 7 board meeting began, Village President Mark Szula announced, "There is no need to further explore Trustee Keene's status as an elected official," and muttered, "That ends that one." Except he didn't specify what Kurlinkus has found out: whether Keene was eligible to serve, had decided to resign, was ineligible but couldn't be removed from the ballot at this point, or what. When I asked Kurlinkus after the meeting for further explanation of Szula's announcement, he didn't really give me any. Since Szula's statement was presumably based on Kurlinkus's memorandum, I asked Kurlinkus if Rockton-Roscoe News could send a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Village of Roscoe, asking for a copy of Kurlinkus's legal opinion. Kurlinkus responded encouragingly to the idea, saying only that he might have to redact part of it.

But on Mar. 13, the Village's FOIA officer sent an email that they were denying my request. The Village was now claiming the memorandum was "an attorney-client privileged communication between the Village and its legal counsel... made in confidence to the President and Board."

Their legal justification: the Freedom of Information Act has an exemption for "materials prepared or compiled by or for a public body in anticipation of a criminal, civil, or administrative proceeding upon the request of an attorney advising the public body." Since it is unclear what proceeding they may have been anticipating, we have appealed the denial with the Public Access Counselor of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General.

Update 3/22/2023: The Illinois Attorney General's office issued a letter to the Village of Roscoe today, instructing the Village to send them Kurlinkus's memo so they can decide for themselves if Anthony Keene's eligibility for office should be considered protected information. The Village has a week to provide that memo to them, along with their "legal and factual basis" for the denial. 

Future plans

Anthony Keene reportedly plans to return to Roscoe eventually. He is still registered to vote in Roscoe and not in Los Angeles County, even though he has lived there for more than a year. According to the Illinois Constitution, a voter must have been "a permanent resident of this State for at least 30 days next preceding any election." The pamphlet Registering to Vote in Illinois [PDF], published by the Illinois State Board of Elections, says "If you moved more than 30 days before the election out of your county or municipality under a board of election commissioners and did not transfer your registration, you can only vote by re-registering from your new address."

Matt Dietrich, Public Information Officer for the Illinois State Board of Elections, told us, "If anyone had an objection to his candidacy based on that issue, they should have filed it during the objection period after nominating petitions were filed." State law allows five days to contest a candidacy. He added, "If he's reelected and there are questions whether he meets the residency requirements of the office, it would then become a question of whether he is sworn into office. That would be a question the village attorney would need to pursue." Illinois law allows residency exceptions for federal employees or military who are deployed out of state, though Keene works as a private civilian employee.

But Keene's candidacy may be perfectly legal. Dietrich says, "It's not uncommon for Illinois voters to keep their voter registration here while living or working temporarily elsewhere, which sounds like the situation you are describing. What he can't do is register and vote in both places."

Legal precedents

In the past, Illinois high courts have decided in favor of other candidates who left the state and then returned. In Smith v. People ex rel. Frisbie, 44 Ill. 16 (1867), a Galesburg lawyer named Arthur A. Smith had lived in occupied Tennessee for eight months after the Civil War as an "experiment." It didn't work. Within a month, the former Union officer wrote to a friend that "he was satisfied that he could not live in safety in Tennessee." He returned to Illinois in 1866 and was appointed a circuit judge. Opponents argued that being a judge required five years of continuous Illinois residency. But the Illinois Supreme Court ruled those eight months still counted because Smith hadn't "abandoned" Illinois. He never sold his house here. Smith refused to vote in Tennessee because “he desired to do no act by which he would lose his citizenship in [Illinois].” Smith even kept his Illinois law books, saying he would probably need them later.

In a 2011 decision, Maksym vs Board of Election Commissioners, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Rahm Emanuel could run for Chicago mayor, even though he had been living in Washington DC for almost two years. Like Smith, Emanuel had always said he was only going to Washington temporarily. He still kept boxes of possessions at his Chicago house and continued to pay Illinois taxes. Significantly, Emanuel had been a federal employee in Washington. Federal employees have specific residency exemptions under Illinois law.

Keene is still technically co-owner of a home in Chicory Ridge, though his wife has "temporary sole and exclusive possession" of it. Reportedly he plans to find another place to live in Roscoe upon his return. Like Judge Smith, Keene hasn't "abandoned" Illinois. So legally he could be allowed to serve on the Village of Roscoe Board of Trustees and run for reelection.

In an email statement, trustee Carol Gustafson said, "What is legal may not be ethical. What is legal does not allow for true representation of our residents. Intent to remain connected to one’s community should be demonstrated by showing up and interacting with one’s neighbors, not mere assertions from California. This board could consider all these matters. However, Keene has been a loyal Szula team member and... it would jeopardize his [Szula's] majority on this board."

The Consolidated Election is Apr. 4, 2023. Voters will choose village trustees, school board members, and others.

A previous version of this story said Keene encouraged the establishment of Chicory Ridge Park. A reader corrected me, pointing out the park was mostly completed before Keene moved to Roscoe, something which Keene had previously told me.  We regret the error. A gravel walking path around the Chicory Ridge Park pond was donated during Keene’s time as trustee.

Also, we repeated what we were told was an eyewitness report, that Mark Szula had collected signatures for Anthony Keene. It's a routine practice to collect signatures for others. However, a Village official confirmed that the notarized signature at the bottom of the forms - the name of the person who affirms he collected the signatures - is Anthony Keene's. We regret the error, especially since some saw it as a sign that Keene wasn't committed to his own candidacy, instead of a sign that Szula was committed to Keene's candidacy. Both Keene's and Szula's signature forms are notarized by the same Local 150 official. As Justin Plock reports, Szula did turn in Keene's paperwork for him because Keene had to catch a plane. We are sorry for the misunderstanding.

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Please look further into this. I believe the statement “Szula collected signatures for Keene“ is false. Keene collected signatures from Village residents in person himself. Also it is completely legal for anyone to turn in someone’s paperwork. It’s my understanding that Keene asked Szula to turn in his paperwork because he had to catch an early morning flight that day. It’s also my understanding that the paperwork was in an envelope which Szula never opened or looked at the documents.

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Thank you. I've updated the article. But yes, it's perfectly legal, even common, to collect signatures for other candidates and even to turn in someone else's paperwork. I wasn't trying to imply otherwise.

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