In most village board elections, including the one last month, candidates campaign on the importance of transparency in government. Transparency in government is one of the campaign promises that most candidates make, but very few practice once elected. The Oak Park village board routinely claims they are transparent in their actions, but the recent ruling by the Illinois Attorney General stating that Oak Park violated the Illinois Open Meeting Act paints a very different picture.
Many on the village board feel that the Attorney General's Office was wrong in its ruling. Their dissatisfaction with the ruling was expected, for it is embarrassing when those who strongly claim to be transparent are caught deceiving the public. The village board complied with the Attorney General's ruling, but not without instructing Ray Heise to send a letter, stating that the village was right in closing the meeting to the public and the Attorney General was wrong. Heise's letter is the equivalent of a thief who tells the judge, after he is sentenced to prison, that the judge was wrong in her ruling, but the thief is going to go to jail anyway because he does not have a place to live.
Everyone on the village board claims to support an open and transparent government, but their actions point to a board that likes to close the door to public scrutiny. The board closes 50 percent of their meetings to the public, which makes one ask, what are they trying to hide? The board's claims of transparency appear to be based on the belief that if they say it enough times, people will eventually believe it.
This is similar to the tactic that David Pope has used with the Lake and Forest parking garage. Pope continues to claim that it must be torn down, based on a conversation he had with the construction project manager, who said the garage was designed to last 30 years.
When asked about the specifics of this conversation, Pope is unable to provide the name of the construction project manager, where they met, when they met, or who the project manager worked for at the time the garage was built. It would seem that this conversation never occurred.
Now consider that the village commissioned a study by a professional engineer who proves the garage has a much longer life than President Pope and the alleged project manager would like us to believe. Nonetheless, Pope, who is not an engineer, continues to say the garage must be torn down, hoping that people will eventually believe his claim.
Ray Johnson, Adam Salzman, and Bob Tucker all campaigned on a more open and transparent village board. Trustee Johnson was among the board members who violated the Open Meetings Act, but hopefully he has mended his ways and will now keep his campaign promise of transparency.
We all hope that first-time trustees Salzman and Tucker will honor their commitment to an open and transparent government and convince the other trustees that they should do the same.