Harmon's bill about practicality, not secrecy

Opinion

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Last week, WEDNESDAY JOURNAL printed a letter from Forest Park Commissioner Theresa Steinbach regarding a bill that Senator Kimberly Lightford and I are sponsoring in the current session of the General Assembly ("OP should know what Senator Harmon's up to"). I write to clear up some misconceptions in Commissioner Steinbach's letter.

Senate Bill 1296 proposes to fix a problem with the commission form of government employed by 52 municipalities across Illinois. Under current law, there is an inherent conflict between the commission form of government and the Open Meetings Act.

In the commission form of government, unlike a tive matter. An unintended conseque seven or more members?#34;to meet privately to discuss even pending legislative matters.

So, how do we correct the inherent conflict? Senate Bill 1296 proposes a simple, common-sense solution. It would preserve the protections of the Open Meetings Act with respect to legislative business pending before the full board, while acknowledging the public is better served by permitting two commissioners to talk about administrative matters that will never come before the board for a vote.

The Illinois Press Association is rightfully the most staunch defender of the Open Meetings Act, and correctly insists on transparency in government. I agree. I have supported the Press Association in these matters, and I have worked with the Press Association on important legislation. Even the Illinois Press Association, however, acknowledges this inherent conflict between the commission form of government and the Open Meetings Act.

My colleagues in the Senate and I worked very hard to negotiate an amendment to the Municipal Code?#34;not the Open Meetings Act?#34;that would cure this conflict once and for all, and still be acceptable to the Illinois Press Association. Senate Bill 1296, as we have agreed to amend it, will benefit 52 communities throughout the State of Illinois including Forest Park, while maintaining transparency in government.

Senate Bill 1296 is an initiative of the West Central Municipal Conference, which represents all of the Cook County suburbs in my district and in Senator Lightford's district. Senator Lightford and I filed this bill on February 18, 2005, and were joined by several Senate colleagues as co-sponsors. Senate Bill 1296 recently passed the Senate nearly unanimously. Until Commissioner Steinbach's letter, I was unaware of any commissioner in any municipality in Illinois who had any concern regarding this bill.

Moreover, I would have been pleased to speak with Commissioner Steinbach regarding her concerns on this bill. She did not, however, choose to contact me; had she done so, she certainly would have been included in the negotiation of the final amendment. I hope that, when she sees the amendment, she will find that her concerns have already been addressed. In the meantime, I am disappointed that our conversation had to begin in the form of dueling letters in the local papers.

Hearing these objections, I am more than happy to hold the bill so that we can have further discussions over the summer to make certain the residents of Forest Park understand the significant benefits of this bill. I will continue to serve as an advocate for open, honest, and transparent government. Citizens should demand no less of their representatives.

Senator Don Harmon
Oak Park

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