Open meetings wider

Opinion: Editorials

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We will wait for the report of the Illinois Attorney General's office before commenting on a resident's complaint that Oak Park village officials violated the Open Meetings Act in November in holding an executive session concerning the contract on the property at Forest and Lake.

We actively support the stepped-up role of the Attorney General's office in probing possible violations of a somewhat strengthened Open Meetings law in our indisputably corrupt state. And Lisa Madigan deserves considerable credit for the strong job her office is doing in this area.

That said, two observations:

Being legally permissible is not the same as being legally advisable. Perhaps, and the AG's office will tell us, the Oak Park village board acted completely within the law in discussing an extension of the timetable for a developer behind closed doors. But that doesn't mean they have to close the doors.

Our sense is that the doors are closed too often by the village board, that the use of executive session is on the rise in Oak Park. Clearly there are times when executive session is necessary and appropriate: when negotiating the purchase or disposition of property; when discussing strategy in a lawsuit; when negotiating a union contract; when discussing the work performance of an employee.

The case at Forest and Lake was not that. This was an agreement to allow an existing contract to build a major project to be extended because the economy continues to challenge. It is in no way a surprise that an extension is necessary. Only the most negative detractors of the project could paint it as anything other than routine.

Except that the board made the decision privately.

The board compounded that error, in our opinion, by approving the action, as required, in public, but as part of the "consent agenda." In other words without comment or explanation to the voters.

We get the purpose of the consent agenda. It speeds meetings that used to be interminable. Having meetings last until midnight because everyone talked incessantly about each agenda item is no service to democracy. However, non-routine items such as this one deserve a few moments of explanation. It improves communication. It takes the wind from the sails of conspiracy theorists.

Oak Park's impulse must always be for openness. Each time the doors close on the public's business, legal, moral and political attention must be paid.

Reader Comments

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DJ  

Posted: January 6th, 2011 10:51 PM

You make a good point Ken. I suspect the editors are using the word "routine" in different senses. In the first they are saying that exensions of development/construction contracts are not unusual. In the second they are using the term "routine" to mean not controversial. But I agree that it is a distortion to describe as "routine" a proposal to relieve a developer of its contractual obligations in a way that will impose significant costs on the Village.

Ken from Oak Park  

Posted: January 5th, 2011 4:12 PM

So . . . wait. Which is it? Is the extension of time for the developer routine, as you say in paragraph six? Or is it a "non-routine item" as you say in paragraph nine? If it's routine, per paragraph six, then what's wrong with executive session? You guys need to work on the consistency of your arguments.

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