This is not legal advice. It is more along the lines of "How to Win Friends and Influence People." When the Illinois Attorney General's Office slaps your wrist, don't slap back.
That's what Oak Park Village President David Pope did quickly on Friday just after the AG's office issued its ruling in response to a citizen's complaint that the village had violated aspects of the Open Meetings Act.
Yes, said the attorney general, in two aspects Oak Park failed to follow the Open Meetings Act when it met in November to discuss an extension of a contract with a developer to build a hotel project in downtown Oak Park.
First, said the AG, the village committed a technical violation in the protocol on voting to enter an executive session. Second, and more substantively, because the extension did not involve a discussion of changing the pricing of the deal, the AG concluded that the conversation was not covered by the act.
Pope was immediately adamant about the process issue, but he at least acknowledged the village needed clarification on the topic discussed behind closed doors.
Our view, stated previously, is that the village board has been pushing the spirit and the specific limits of open meetings for some while. Just because a case can be made for a closed meeting does not mean the meeting should be closed. In fact, just last week an additional extension on the Lake and Forest project was before the village board. This time the discussion was held publicly — our assumption in part because of the case before the AG — and the sky didn't fall.
Oak Park officials talk with some passion about transparency and their commitment to it. We don't see it fully played out and that disappoints us. This village board can do better. And that process will start, President Pope, with better listening and a less defensive response to criticism from citizens and the Attorney General's Office.
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