Anan Abu-Taleb has a fundamental problem as candidate for village president: If he is elected, it appears he may have a significant conflict of interest that would prevent him from fulfilling the village's qualifications for and duties of village president.
The president is, among other things, the local liquor control commissioner. He is aware of the problem but has failed to publicly address it. His wife has been the sole member, officer/director of Maya del Sol LLC, which has been the liquor license holder for the Maya del Sol Restaurant on Oak Park Avenue. If Mr. Abu-Taleb is elected, he would automatically become the primary enforcement official for state and village liquor laws. As such, state and village law would prohibit him from holding a liquor license in the village.
If he is elected, the village's ethics ordinance would prohibit him from having a financial or personal interest in a business which is incompatible with the proper discharge of his official duties in the public interest or which may tend to impair his independence of judgment or action in the performance of his official duties. Mr. Abu-Taleb's problem is that the ethics ordinance would also prohibit his spouse from having a financial interest in such businesses as well.
I attended the recent candidate forum at the Carleton Hotel, hoping to hear Mr. Abu-Taleb address this potential conflict of interest in a meaningful way by informing the voters of the specific manner in which he intends to be in compliance with the ordinance, should he be so elected. The question was asked by the moderator, but a clear response never came. He indicated that he had consulted with lawyers but neglected to tell us what he would do as a result of those consultations. He also said (and I am paraphrasing) that he would never do anything unethical. I could not help but recall that it was a similar pronouncement by a public official that preceded the enactment of this ethics ordinance 20 years ago.
Mr. Abu-Taleb also said he would recuse himself on matters involving his interests. The ethics ordinance, however, does not provide for recusal as a remedy under these circumstances and with good reason. As one village liquor license holder recently mentioned, he would not feel comfortable with Mr. Abu-Taleb making decisions involving other liquor licenses if those applicants proposed facilities that may be too close to Maya, or have similar cuisine to Maya or simply compete with Maya on some level.
Finally, I heard Mr. Abu-Taleb say that (I presume he and his wife) would convey their interest, if it is necessary (again paraphrasing). He should be starting from the assumption that it is necessary for him and his wife to convey their interest in the Maya liquor license and explain specifically how he intends to do that.
If he believes those actions are unnecessary, he needs to explain that to the voting public now, and not after the election. How Mr. Abu-Taleb addresses the rule of law with regard to this potential conflict of interest is a fundamental election issue for the voters of Oak Park. He needs to clearly demonstrate to the public how he intends to be in compliance with the ethics ordinance when and if he is elected. If he is unwilling to do this, I do not see any reason why the voters of Oak Park should take his candidacy seriously.
Ray Heise is the former Oak Park village attorney.
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