Village board should choose a strong start with liquor ordinance issue

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Sometimes there is a political problem and it needs a political solution. The current conflict related to Oak Park's liquor laws and incoming village president Anan Abu-Taleb's holding a liquor license is a political problem. Sure there are legal aspects and it bumps into ethical considerations. But those are relatively minor and easily resolved matters.

Monday night the village board had the chance to implement a political solution — neat and quick — that would resolve the problems and clear the way for Abu-Taleb to become president next Monday without this distraction and potential political hammer lingering.

The solution really is simple. Get Oak Park in sync with a changing state law that says any elected official can be named village liquor commissioner and make formal Abu-Taleb's pledge that he will fully recuse himself from any discussion and any vote related to liquor.

Instead, due to a curious set of circumstances, the members of the board most likely to support fixing the problem quickly chose to table the solution and add it to the typically ceremonial agenda of next Monday's final and simultaneously first board meeting. That should make for an interesting night of transition.

Citing worries of some board members that the final votes in Springfield to change the state law have not been taken and noting that two board members were not physically present, Village President David Pope scuttled his own agenda item at the top of Monday's meeting. The simpler reading is that on this Monday there were not yet enough votes to pass the measure.

The question is what will change by next Monday night when the current and future versions of the village board gather for what is historically a celebration of good government and a reaffirmation of Oak Park's diversity goals. Before that handoff is made and teary statements can be uttered, the current board is going to have to deal with this dicey political issue. And they are going to have to do it under the added scrutiny of many people turning out for a celebration, and they are going to have to decide under a very tight time frame.

All in all, it will create a fascinating prism to view where Oak Park is headed. Will this current board, which has accomplished much, clear this major obstacle and set the next board and president up to succeed? Or will it choose to launch a new board into division and uncertainty, diverted from substance and stuck in an unproductive debate over an obsolete aspect of our liquor laws. What does the liquor commissioner do anyhow?! The full village board makes all the liquor decisions.

As Pope noted, the sponsor of the necessary House measure is none other than Speaker Mike Madigan and his support makes passage of the Springfield piece of this certain. Pope is confident Gov. Pat Quinn will have signed the finished bill by Monday.

If that happens, what valid objections are left? There are worries that boards should not change laws to accommodate individual officials currently seated or about to be seated. I get that point. But changing this law does nothing to personally benefit Abu-Taleb or his business.

There was a well-meaning suggestion Monday night from Gene Armstrong, a stalwart VMA member and longtime civic volunteer who has worked on the village's liquor laws over the decades. He proposed a short-term fix while the broader issue was referred out by the board to a commission for study.

Well-meaning but wrong. This is a moment for a clear and simple resolution of an issue, a clear and simple declaration of forward movement. It doesn't need study and parsing. It needs a quick, suitable, political solution. The vote ought to be unanimous Monday night.

Maybe it won't be quite that. But that's OK, too.

Contact:
Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

21 Comments - Add Your Comment

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John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 4:51 PM

Good news. Thanks for passing the info along. Makes me feel a bit odd because of my lengthy post on possible events, but I like being prepared.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 3:51 PM

@JBM, The bill passed in the IL House today. So the official last action to date is from the Senate Chamber "Passed Both Houses."

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 3:35 PM

I think if the VMA persists in pursuing this issue on alcohol without helping to resolve it amicably, the VMA is signing it's own political end.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 3:18 PM

I agree 100% with Dan Haley's view, though I still fear the ramification if the state approves its legislation and the current board does not vote to modify its ordinance. First, I think Anan should not divest his ownership of Maya del Sol. The impact on his family is grossly unfair. The best outcome is for the current board's approval of the state-based ordinance. But what if the state bill is not passed by Monday's meeting? Would the current (exiting) board approve a modified ordinance with a contingency that the approval is contingent on the approval of the state modification? Would that really change the possible ordinance violation? Irrespective of the current board decision, the new board will be sworn in with Anan and Barber replacing Pope and Hedges. Before that occurs it would seem that it has to be determined when the Anan ordinance violation occurs. Does it occur when Anan is sworn in, when he refuses to serve as Liquor Commission President, etc? Seemingly the new board could challenge Anan swearing in based on a violation of the Oak Park ordinance, if the violation actually takes place at swearing in? Who would enforce the ordinance violation? How would it be adjudicated? How long would it take to adjudicate? How would the village board be administered during the interim? What legal action, from either side, should be anticipated? Bottom line is everyone gets hurt, Anan, the board, the reputation of the village, and worst of all the optimistic voters who thought they were helping to change Oak Park politics.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 12:46 PM

@JBM, Very good point.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 12:13 PM

Lynn's statement also dispels any beliefs that the VMA's role in Oak Park elections is solely selecting candidates.

dystOPia  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 11:40 AM

Lynn Kamensita, VMA President, is quoted in today's Trib Local as being against an amended liquor ordinance for Pres-Elect Abu-Taleb. Kamensita's husband is former VMA Trustee Join Hale, who was publicly opposed to Anan prior to the elections. These VMA core members, along with Ray Heise, have painted themselves in a public relations corner with their prolonged public tantrum. The public will be watching the board meeting on May 6.

Chris Walsh from Oak Park  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 12:07 AM

I concur with your views, Dan. If the state law is amended, Board should change the OP ordinance to allow Board to choose any one of its members to be Commish and amend ethics ordinance to apply only to the Commish and members of the Liquor Control Commission. Easy solution. We don't need to keep a broad prohibition that applies to all the Board Members. They are elected by the People Let the People decide if having a liquor license is a disqualifier. Anan can abstain on liquor-related issues.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 3:44 PM

Those opposed to the ordinance and anxious to force the vote to the new board to remoive Pope's vote will claim that Anan voting is a conflict of interest. It would take a clever lawyer to challenge that view. Bridgett - great coverage of what went on Monday. You are on the mark.

Jackie  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 2:08 PM

And who says that the new president of the Board cannot vote? If certain members of the Board choose to go rogue, there is no legal impediment to Anan voting on the amendment. This whole sorry episode stinks of Johnson/Heise, especially in the light of the "enlightening" legal advise of Boutet, Heise's former lackey and clueless watergirl.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 1:53 PM

...road until AFTER the new board is installed, because then there will be only six eligible members, instead of the current seven, to vote on something that needs four votes to pass. And David's current "yes" vote would not be replaced by Anan's "yes" vote, since Anan wouldn't be unable to vote.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 1:52 PM

...at during the week before the next meeting on May 6th. He said that "there may be two or three different avenues to get there, to do what needs to be done. And still be able to take action on May 6th, which may incorporate suspending the rules until June 1st." (This was in reference to Gene Armstrong's earlier shout out about a suspension resolution.) In other words, there were not four votes to pass this on Monday. And there are some on the board who want to push this issue down the...

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 1:50 PM

...Boutet, the village attorney said, "You could do a lot of different things." David agreed, but then pointed out that the other element of this was that all seven members of the current board are eligible (no conflict) to vote on this matter. But with the new board, Anan wouldn't be able to. David said he felt it was good for the community to clear this conflict before the new board took their seats. Four votes are needed to pass.) John then mentioned that all of the options could be looked...

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 1:47 PM

...week. David Pope confirmed this, and gave his opinion that the state law would pass, and that he had the same concern as Adam. And he would put in on the agenda on May 6th before the new board was sworn in. Bob Tucker agreed with Adam and David's concerns. And was comfortable with tabling it with a "date certain," meaning doing it before the new board was sworn in. Then there was a pause. Then John Hedges quietly said to David, "You could do--" (something inaudible) To which Simone...

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 1:22 PM

This is what happened: Ray Johnson said he wanted to know the "language of the law in Springfield" and proceed after knowing that with the new board. Adam Salzman then mentioned though, the state law was "very likely to pass." And that unless they made changes before the new board, swearing in Anan would be a "conflict personified." Colette Lueck then thought that Springfield was out of session for the next couple of weeks Adam said that wasn't true, that they were meeting this current...

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 12:41 PM

Board members tell the public regularly that they are all independent and each member has one vote. Then Monday, rather than voting, they cause chaos by choosing to table. A motion to vote on the ordinance should have taken place because politics superseded common sense. Most galling was Trustee Johnson phoning in to ensure that the vote did not take place, and they hung up for the DTOP Development Proposal discussion.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 12:36 PM

Board members tell the public regularly that they are all independent and each member has one vote. Then Monday, rather than voting, they cause chaos by choosing to table. A motion to vote on the ordinance should have taken place because politics superseded common sense. Most galling was Trustee Johnson phoning in to ensure that the vote did not take place, and they hung up for the DTOP Development Proposal discussion.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 11:59 AM

If, as some have speculated, trustees Johnson and Lueck are blocking efforts to change the ordinance both of these elected officials should go on the record. The public, especially voters, deserve an explanation.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 11:41 AM

Anan received a mandate vote from Oak Park. A 20% win over his opponent is huge. Yet, he is four days away from his swearing in and there is no village board resolution on whether he can take the office the community voted him to. Politically driven board members are sending a clear reminder to the voters that the personal desires of board members supersedes the vote of the people..

Susan  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 11:17 AM

Right on point, Mr. Haley. It appears that the VMA is in a death throe. It is so interesting that those VMA folks think themselves so transparent and clean, while working backroom deals and generally hiding the truth from the voters. They will surely pay the price at the next election when Johnson is on tap.

dystOPia  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 10:53 AM

It appeared that Trustees Johnson and Lueck were the primary force behind tabling this agenda item Monday night. Since their two votes are not sufficient to deny passage of an amended liquor ordinance, there may be more than meets the eye. My concern is whether Trustee Johnson is holding the amended ordinance hostage to gain personal political concessions. To delay resolving this issue until the swearing in ceremony is unacceptable, and should be duly noted by all citizens.

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