Oak Park says attorney general used 'unreasonably narrow' interpretations of the Open Meetings Act

Village attorney responds to open meetings violation

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Click here to see Ray Heise's response and the transcript from the Nov. 22 meeting.

The Village of Oak Park responded last week, about a month after the Illinois Attorney General's Office accused it of violating the state's Open Meetings Act.

Village Attorney Ray Heise, in a 12-page letter, said he believes the attorney general came to the conclusion last month based on "limited and incomplete documentation," along with "unreasonably narrow interpretations" of the law.

Heise said in the letter that the attorney general got the facts wrong, in accusing the village of improperly convening the meeting. He said village hall wants to keep in contact with the attorney general's office to avoid similar situations in the future, and he said the nonbinding ruling will be a "substantial detriment" to the village and its citizens in future uses of closed meetings.

In a phone interview Monday, Heise said the response letter from the village wasn't required. But he felt a need to address the "misperceptions" created by the attorney general's ruling.

"Silence assumes agreement," he said, "so I think the village was obligated to respond."

The closed meeting, held Nov. 22 at village hall, was to discuss whether officials wanted to give a Chicago-based developer more time to build a 20-story hotel in downtown Oak Park. There were also discussions of requiring the developer to fund construction of a surface parking lot at the corner of Lake and Forest in exchange for the extension.

Oak Parker David Barsotti argued the village board should not have discussed the decision in closed session. So he filed a complaint with the attorney general on Dec. 19, asking the state to take a closer look at the November meeting.

The attorney general said in March that Oak Park "failed" to hold an open meeting first and take a public vote before going into the closed session, as required by state law, and that the village did not discuss setting a price for selling the land under its public garage during that meeting, as village hall claimed.

In his April 15 letter and a phone interview, Heise vociferously defended the village for holding the closed-doors meeting. He said Oak Park clearly voted publicly to go into the private meeting, as required by law.

The attorney general claimed that talking about the extension in private didn't fit under the category of setting a price for the sale of land, which government bodies are allowed to discuss privately. But Heise said the extension was barely discussed, and the meat of the conversation was about a $229,000 credit Oak Park was seeking from the developer — a discount on the village's costs to pay for a new parking garage, in exchange for the developer putting down a surface parking lot.

Heise believes that short staffing in the Attorney General's Office resulted in not allowing them to fully study the Nov. 22 meeting.

"I think it's very difficult, given the enormous responsibility that the attorney general has and the limited staff and time they have to devote to each of these," Heise said.

An email to an attorney general spokeswoman Monday was not answered by late Tuesday morning.

Barsotti, a vocal opponent of the proposed hotel, said Oak Park can say what it wants, but the attorney general has the final say, and the village should listen. He believes that having the discussion in public would not have hurt negotiations. He thinks board members who campaigned on a platform of transparency should keep their word and limit private meetings.

"Were those just campaign slogans to make it sound good, or are they actually going to really make government transparent so that we see what's going on?" he said.

In an email Tuesday, Trustee Ray Johnson said he wants Oak Park to listen to the attorney general and be more careful before meeting privately in the future.

"The AG makes it clear that, based on their review, the consideration we discussed did not rise to the level of an appropriate executive session," he said. "I am fully supportive of bringing a tighter focus to our process so we stay within both the spirit and intent of the [Open Meetings Act]."

 

Village Response on PAC Nonbinding Determinations on Request for Review

Reader Comments

25 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

OP Resident  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 10:47 AM

Chaos still reigns in the Law Dept., Michael. Heise does have an office but it is basically uninhabitable. A number of years ago, Heise took over a large conference room inside Village Hall that is also a mess. He still uses the same excuse about missing documents. Why he stays on is anybody's guess. But,if you saw how he brushed aside trustees' questions during 2011 budget hearings; you get the feeling they are afraid to take him on. I think they need to look closely at his finances.

Michael from La Grange  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 9:38 AM

Does Heise still keep his office in a hoarded state and then always claim he hasn't received requests that were sent to him? Can't believe he's still employed by OP...

David Pope from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2011 12:13 AM

John - I found the details included in a link that you referenced in a different post. I'll ask Tom on Monday and either get back to you myself or ensure that someone give's you a call. Kind regards, David

David Pope from Oak Park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 11:47 PM

Hi John. I apologize if there was a breakdown on a request you submitted. Mr. Heise has been out on medical leave for the past several weeks, so it's certainly possible that something didn't get addressed or handed off. I'm happy to ask Tom about it on Monday (though neither he nor I or the Board are in the line of decision-making regarding FOIA requests), to find out if something got dropped. Can you offer any more details, so I at least know what the specific issue is. Thanks (c) 312-498-6001.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 11:05 PM

I have never submitted an FOIA, though I have made requests of the village clerk's office that were filled quickly and accurately. I did send a ltr to an OP planner making a request regarding the PlanCom's Hearings on the Madison Avenue Housing Development. The planner said he had sent request to the attorney for review. I followed up a day later w/ the planner who told me Mr. Heise was out sick. The hearings ended w/o my request being addressed. I later sent an F/U to Heise. I got no answer.

OP Resident  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 10:49 PM

Village Clerk Powell provides an official response but it still requires clarification. Is she saying that every FOIA request has not being examined by the Law Department? If so, what percentage does Heise review? Will she comply without receiving prior approval from Heise? My experience was completely different than the process she details. When I asked about status; Clerk's Office staff stated my request was under review by the Village Attorney. I believe the same was told to Mr. Murtagh.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 10:35 PM

Ray Johnson "The AG makes it clear that, based on their review, the consideration we discussed did not rise to the level of an appropriate executive session," he said. "I am fully supportive of bringing a tighter focus to our process so we stay within both the spirit and intent of the [Open Meetings Act]." Ray, If above is accurate why didn't the board reply publicly to my complaint that there was a second open mtg violation regarding the Board Referral Note to the Plan Commission Hearing?

Frustrated in OP  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 5:44 PM

A closed meeting should only be used when actual confidential matters need to be discussed - for example a personnel matter. Mr. Heise takes issue with the "unreasonably narrow" interpretation taken by the Attorney General. It SHOULD be a narrow interpretation. As another writer mentioned, this particular matter is highly controversial and the need for Village Board transparency in its decision making process should be obvious. So what if the developer doesn't want the meeting to be public?

epic lulz  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 1:28 PM

Sounds like the "other" OP Res is a fan of Dilbert: http://www.comicsalliance.com/2011/04/20/scott-adams-plannedchaos-sockpuppet/

P O'Shea  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 12:54 PM

LOL! Best giggle all day. Well said J.

J.oak park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 12:13 PM

@John, don't worry we are all wrong in OP's world. Sigh.

OP  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 12:07 PM

john murtagh you are wrong again.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 11:42 AM

OP - STOP USING OP RESIDENT NAME FOR POSTING. EVERYONE ON THE COMMENT BOARD RECOGNIZES YOUR WRITING STYLE AND WEAK OPINION POSTS. NO SENSE HIDING BEHIND SOMEONE ELSE'S NAME. IT IS JUST AS UNETHICAL TO PIRATE A PERSON'S PSEUDONYM AS IT IS HIS OR HER REAL NAME

Teresa Powell  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 10:12 AM

FOIA requests are administered by the Clerk's office, but any denials must be determined by the Legal Department to assure that they are in conformance with state law.

OP Resident  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 1:14 PM

You paint with a broad brush, "other" OP Resident. It's nice that you enjoy such a cozy relationship with Ray Heise. You obviously know little about the influence Heise has had on the decision-making process during his nearly four decades as Village attorney.I prefer to look at his track record. Are you in favor of no-bid contracts to the law firms he personally selects to provide outside legal counsel? Do you think he should have final say on FOIA requests? Prove your case or take a seat.

OP Resident  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 12:23 PM

Why so critical of everything and everyone. All decisions are made by the village board.The village attorney just carries out the will of the board.Any lawsuits are approved by the board.The village attorney does NOT set policy or make any decisions-he is not responsible for any of the items you mentioned. Look at the board if you have complaints. Get involved if you think you could do better. Stop Complaining and make a difference!

OP Resident  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 11:53 AM

This OP Resident thinks the "other" OP Resident is all wet! No one is saying that Heise doesn't put in long hours on the job but that has to do with his overall lack of organization. He's paid a top salary and receives a very generous vacation package. Let Heise's record speak for itself. Who oversaw the lousy deals for the garages at OP-RF HS and the main library? Who was behind the Tasty Dog fiasco? How many needless lawsuits have been filed against the Village? Who blocks FOIA requests?

OP Resident  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 10:28 AM

Just have to say this. Ray Heise is one of the most highly respected municipal lawyers in the state. As a municipal lawyer myself I often seek his advice.He is always quick to answer my question and is always right on target.As the other writer said I often catch him LATE into the evening at Village Hall.Keep up the good work Ray Heise

OP Resident  

Posted: April 20th, 2011 10:20 AM

It surprises me that people are so quick to criticize.I have had many, many contacts with Ray Heise and always found him to be very professional and passionate about Oak Park.After meetings that I would be involved with at village hall I would find Ray Heise in his office night after night working until 1 or 2 in the morning on village business.If on occasion, I would run into him, he would be very kind and take as much time as I needed to answer a question-way after business hours.

OP Resident  

Posted: April 19th, 2011 6:24 PM

John, if this is your first experience office with Ray Heise; be prepared for a stall. All FOIA requests must go thru his office. I watched the budget hearings on TV6 and was amazed how Heise was able to manipulate the trustees. Questions to him about how he selects the firms for outside legal contracts were not fully answered. He offered no proof that Oak Park is getting a fair price for legal services. The result is that no-bid contracts go to these firms. A very troubling practice.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 19th, 2011 12:58 PM

OP Resident is on the mark. I was recently referred to Ray Heise's office by a Village Planner. The planner had forwarded a written request I had made re the Plan Commission Hearings to Heise. I never heard anything from Heise despite having followed up with an e-mail. I suspect I never will.

OP Resident  

Posted: April 18th, 2011 11:29 AM

A colossal screwup by our Village Attorney. It's time for the trustees to stop taking his advice. The Law Department under Ray Heise's direction has been responsible for the Tasty Dog debacle, the OP-RF HS parking garage fiasco, the Main Library parking garage controversy and countless lawsuits being filed against VOP. Enough already!

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 16th, 2011 2:00 PM

The OP Stf gave a document to the PlanCom that contained the board's referral on the MAD. Housing Prop. The Referral contained 2 statements prejudical to the hearing and indicated that a board vote had been taken. I was told by the village planner that the info was from the 10/22/10 board mtg. A review of the 11-22-10 PUBLIC minutes and transcript shows no mention of the referral. I sent a ltr to the board on the matter - no reply. The ltr contents have been sent to the Cook Cty State's Attorney

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: April 16th, 2011 10:13 AM

The lawyer doth protest too much, methinks.

Daniel Hurtado  

Posted: April 16th, 2011 10:01 AM

I understand the board's inclination to defend itself and take the position that their conduct fell within a reasonable interpretation of the open meetings act. What I don't understand is their inclination to lean toward violating the spirit of the act, rather than complying with it. As far as I can tell, there was no legitimate policy reason for executive session in this instance. The Lake/Forest project is controversial - all the more reason to discuss an extension publicly.

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