When Oak Park needed a lawyer, village officials only had to walk down the hall. And one guy they knew they could find there was Ray Heise.
Whether drafting a panhandling ordinance or crafting complex redevelopment agreements or arguing Oak Park’s handgun ban before the U.S. Supreme Court, Heise could be counted on for his legal judgment and insight – or even an arcane factoid or two.
It will be the changing of the guard when Heise retires after nearly 40 years of service, 27 of those as village attorney. His retirement, effective June 30, was .
"When someone with that level of experience and expertise leaves there will be a void that will be difficult, if not impossible to completely fill," Village President David Pope said.
Virginia Cassin, who served as Village Clerk from 1973 to 1993, said Heise "has an uncanny ability to see history and remember things remarkably well."
“He’s Oak Park’s institutional memory.”
His announcement was a semi-surprise, Village Manager Tom Barwin said.
“He’s been here a long time; he continues to work 60-hour weeks. It’s not such a surprise that after (more than) 30 years of doing this, one might look forward to a change of pace," said Barwin, who has worked with Heise for nearly five years. "His work ethic and impeccable sense of integrity will be missed."
Trustee Ray Johnson, who worked with Heise for eight years, found him more than willing to give his time to a matter.
“I’d ask for a one pager and I’d often get four pages. He presented every angle, even angles I hadn’t even thought of, so that I had all the information I needed to make a good, sound decision."
While the institutional memory may be impossible to replace, Heise will leave behind a legacy of crafting ordinances affecting public art, historic preservation, integration, diversity, fair housing and almost every other major issue that has come before the village.
In 1997, Heise was integrally involved in landmark ordinances focusing on domestic partnerships and a domestic partner registry. Oak Park for years was the only jurisdiction in Illinois to have a domestic partner registry until Cook County approved one in 2003.
Johnson and Pope both said that ordinance will be among Heise’s legacies. Johnson noted that writing the ordinance to include same-sex and opposite-sex partners made it easier to defend when opponents of the measure put it on the ballot in 1998. The referendum was defeated.
Pope also acknowledged that Heise's other legacy was his crafting of Oak Park's landmark handgun ban, adopted in 1984 in the wake of the shooting of Oak Park attorney James Piszczor in a Daley Center courtroom in 1983. Voters famously upheld the ban in November 1985.
Heise also played a role in defending the ban in court when Donald Bennett, a gas station owner, was tried and acquitted for possessing and discharging a handgun within village limits in 1986.
In 2010, Chicago’s and Oak Park’s handgun bans were challenged and Heise was a lead counsel who argued its defense before the U.S. Supreme Court. Heise did an amazing piece of background work in that effort, Barwin said. The bans, however, were overturned.
Replacing a Life in Law
A graduate of the University of Illinois, Heise became a law clerk in 1975 while he was completing his law degree at Chicago-Kent College of Law. In 1976 he became Village Prosecutor and was promoted to Assistant Village Attorney in 1981. He became Village Attorney in 1984.
Simone Boutet, who has served as assistant village attorney for 10 years, will become Oak Park’s interim village attorney. Heise will share his knowledge with Boutet over the coming weeks.
Barwin is unsure whether the village will begin a search for a permanent replacement.
Pope said that Heise will serve as a resource for the village as needed.
"We're grateful to him for his continued support even as he looks forward to the next chapter for him and his family," Pope said.
Doubtless, there will be other tributes to Heise in the coming weeks and people will share their stories. Cassin said there always were piles of files and documents and books on the floor of his office but he always knew exactly where to look when he needed something.
“He had excellent judgment, remarkably so. People’s views about him will vary but for me I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s everything you’d want in a village attorney.” Cassin said.
Johnson said Heise has deep roots in Oak Park, which means "he won’t be far if we need him for something."