By Ben Meyerson
River Forest's village board was set to approve a new ethics ordinance Tuesday night, creating a new set of rules and guidelines to operate under.
But like many issues in the village, it's likely to be a contentious battle. Minority board member Steve Dudek was charged for more than a year with creating an ethics bill. And every few months he would briefly discuss his progress — first in the health and legal committee meetings he headed, then before the board itself this summer.
His efforts to get a bill passed, though, came to a head and failed at the board's last meeting in September. There, he forced the issue, presenting a slightly altered version of the same bill he'd been pushing since the beginning of the process, based off of northwest suburban Park Ridge's lengthy ethics ordinance.
Dudek asked for a straight up-or-down vote on his bill, but was shot down by everyone else on the board, save for Trustee Steve Hoke, Dudek's fellow minority board member.
Instead, the board's majority decided to go with a proposal from Trustee Susan Conti: A simpler, more straightforward set of ethics rules adopted from the town of Wendell, N.C., but which needed to be rewritten with some legalese from a legally unbinding policy into an ordinance.
Tuesday night, Conti's gussied-up ordinance was on the agenda for discussion and vote, and discussions with board members before the meeting suggested that her bill was set to be passed. The meeting occurred after this paper went to press on Tuesday, since it was delayed from Monday because of the Columbus Day holiday.
"As far as I'm concerned, it should be passable as it's written," Conti said in an interview Monday.
She originally suggested the Wendell bill because the Park Ridge ordinance was overly complex. While that was partially a factor of it being a non-binding policy, the village attorney's rewriting of the bill into a legally-binding ordinance hasn't made it less clear, she said.
"The beauty of this bill is that we can all read it and understand it," Conti said. "What has to happen with an ethics ordinance is that the board members and the committee members — as well as the citizens — have to understand what it says, because it applies to them."
But Hoke said he wasn't sold on the new bill, and hoped it wasn't passed Tuesday night.
"If it got rushed through with limited debate, I'd be very disappointed, after ours got held up for two years," Hoke said.
Hoke and Dudek have both said they're hoping to have an ethics ordinance on the books before the end of this year, before the controversial Lake and Lathrop development comes before the board looking for TIF dollars. But it's also important to have the right bill, Hoke said.
"I think it's important that we have something, but I think it's something we have to live with for a long time," he said. "I think we need to spend more time going over it in detail, but my first impression is that it's ethics lite. During the last campaign cycle, everyone said they wanted a stronger bill, and this isn't it."
Trustee Jim Winikates, though, was the only majority trustee on Dudek's legal committee when it was tasked with creating an ethics bill, and has been one of the few trustees to provide feedback on the ordinance at every turn.
Having seen Dudek's set of ethics rules since its inception, he said he likes Conti's bill better.
"I think it's more comprehensive — I think it covers a lot of things that the Steve Dudek version did not," Winikates said Monday. "As a member of the health and legal committee, I don't think it ever got the attention to detail it needed."
And since the bill is shorter and more readable, Winikates said he simply doesn't think Conti's bill needs the same kind of scrutiny that Dudek's longer proposal did.
"It really covers everything in the Steve Dudek ordinance," he said. "It's three pages long. Discussion on something like this tomorrow night, I'm sure can be handled in depth."
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