Oak Park trustees question negotiation remarks

Village president discusses executive session during public meeting

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Executive sessions in Oak Park are typically labeled on public agendas in general, vague terms. The merits of the meeting are not immediately known, and, per Illinois Open Meetings Act, village officials don't have to divulge what happened behind closed doors.

That changed on Monday.

Village President Anan Abu-Taleb didn't spill specifics, but his statement about negotiations held during an executive session Monday evening with leaders from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 — which represents most village employees — didn't settle well with some of his colleagues.

The employees in this union, which includes non-management staff at Village Hall, have been working without a contract since it expired at the end of 2010. The union held a two-day strike in early July 2012 after negotiations hit a snag. Workers went back but negotiations continued.

Tim McDonald, vice president of the union, has spoken publicly at meetings since then about the village's failure to reach compromise with its employees over two major talking points: overtime pay and merit-based pay increases.

McDonald was at Monday's village board meeting following the collective bargaining executive session. He did not speak during public comment. Abu-Taleb, however, took a few moments during his comments to address the matter.

"It is public knowledge that we as a board have been meeting in the executive session about collective bargaining," he said. "We as a board are committed to a positive environment. We are committed to our staff and we want to have the best possible relationship."

Trustees didn't have the chance to pipe in during Abu-Taleb's comments, but three trustees said they were puzzled about the village president's comments. They also were miffed he was speaking for the board as a whole since that's not a standard procedure in Oak Park.

Abu-Taleb finished his comments Monday by speaking in general terms, but still outlined goals for the village and union as it moves through negotiations.

"We are serious about trying to resolve this issue and I hope that the union is also thinking in the same terms because nothing would make us happier than getting it done," Abu-Taleb said. "I hope that the same positive attitude that we have on the board is going to be reflected in the union."

Trustees Ray Johnson and Glenn Brewer approached the media after the meeting to share their frustration about the president's comments.

"Very unusual. Unusual and inappropriate," Johnson said of the comments. Brewer agreed.

Johnson, who has been a trustee for more than a decade, said Abu-Taleb went "too far" with his comments and overstated what's happening in the process.

"There is nothing to say at this moment except that we want to be fair to employees and we want to be fair for tax payers," Johnson said. "We will move forward in a collective manner and we were not there yet."

Johnson is concerned Abu-Taleb's comments suggested that the board and the village were being represented as one voice. He approached Abu-Taleb after the meeting to relay his concerns; Brewer said he planned to as well.

"And speaking on behalf of the village board?" Johnson added, "That's not the time or place. There are lots of different perspectives in play at the moment."

Brewer was most troubled about the fact that Abu-Taleb spoke about what specific topic was being discussed in executive session. That's not a standard practice in Oak Park, and said the president should have recognized that, especially when it comes to union negotiations.

"We usually do that in closed session for a very good reason; that reason being because they are negotiations. We don't negotiate in public," Brewer said. "To the extent that the president said what he said, yes, it is our belief that we should, in fact, be fair to the employees but I think it was a bit of an overstatement to say we are in complete agreement about all aspects of what was said."

Resolving matters timely

Abu-Taleb's comments during Monday's meeting were an extension of his common frustration with how long it takes the village to get matters resolved. Abu-Taleb said he's tired of the lagging negotiations that waste time and money.

Speaking to Wednesday Journal on Tuesday, the village president stood by his remarks. "It is public knowledge that we have been meeting about collective bargaining," Abu-Taleb said. "So I didn't say anything that would jeopardize the negotiations. If anything I was urging both sides to come together to make this happen. The whole board is interested in making a positive working staff. You tell me: what is wrong with that?"

Abu-Taleb said both the union and board are interested in resolving the contract issue that's in its third year of negotiations. He believes his comments were encouraging and hopes they will speed up the process.

"I also urged the union to have a positive outlook. If anything I'm trying to send a message to the union that we as a board are interested in resolving the issue. It is not good for our staff. It is not good for our board…We cannot have a positive work experience if we keep dragging this out," Abu-Taleb said firmly.

The president also insisted there are more pressing matters that he wants to allow the board to focus on. He stressed that he'll continue to do and say what he feels is best for the community as a whole.

"I was not elected by the community to just put my head down and keep the way things are and not make changes," Abu-Taleb said. "I don't want to continue to live in the past."

Abu-Taleb recognized that he and trustees won't always share the same perspective, but assured he's committed to keeping positive dialogue going.

Two other trustees weighed in Tuesday with the Journal and both shared different perspectives.

Trustee Adam Salzman, one of three lawyers on the board, said he didn't feel Abu-Taleb's comments harmed the village's position in negotiating, but also suggested the president's comments didn't paint the complete picture.

"It's important for the public to understand that it's not an indication of where the negotiations are going," Salzman said.

Because Abu-Taleb's comments didn't provide specifics, he said he understood why the president shared his thoughts.

"I think that his comments were reflective that we have been mired in this process from upwards of three years. What I think Anan was doing was voicing his frustrations about it," Salzman said. "Historically, this is not something we've permitted ourselves to do. I can see where Ray and Glenn are coming from. That's one piece of it. The other piece of it is that all of us have been elected to represent the best policies in the village And from Anan's perspective, that's what I think he was doing."

Still, Salzman suggested it would have been a better practice to address a procedure in advance when it comes to situations like commenting on executive session matters in public meetings. Overall, he felt Abu-Taleb's comments were "perfectly legal," and said the village's position "remains secure."

Trustee Colette Lueck was among the board members shocked about Abu-Taleb's decision to speak publicly about this matter without giving trustees a heads up. She felt protocol was broken and felt making comments about private matters negates the purpose for holding the executive session.

"It wasn't the norm at all," Lueck said. "I was extremely surprised that protocol wasn't followed…And usually people speak for themselves. Again, it's sort of a common practice."

Lueck agrees that when it comes to how a process works in the village, that the public has a right to know. But revealing any specifics about where the village is at in union negotiations—and the sense of where the process is— in inappropriate, Lueck said. The full board, she added, is also not fully involved in the negotiating process.

"Particularly, when we are in negotiations our policy has been that negotiations are between the negotiating team. The contract is between the board and the union," Lueck said. "It's not our place to say everyone is on board. …The board is not represented in the process."

Contact:
Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

56 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Sad  

Posted: August 25th, 2013 8:01 PM

I do not understand why, Johnson, Brewer, and Lueck was so upset with what President Anan said. 50 years ago the Village Board use to be open, honest, and compassionate with the residents and employees. Anan was showing concern and honest compassion to the residents and employees of Oak Park. What was wrong with that? Shame on the three Trustees for your negative words. You should be trying to change the way things are done in the Village. Do you have no compassion for your fellow man?

Dave Schiavone from Oak Park  

Posted: August 22nd, 2013 5:30 PM

The VMA trio of Lueck, Johnson, and Brewer appear to be tone deaf to the voters' sentiments in their electing and continuing to support Anan. It is time for them to wake up or go.

Bill Higgins  

Posted: August 22nd, 2013 8:09 AM

I expect more yelping from Lueck & Johnson to continue throughout the next 4 years. Anan did not reveal anything about the negations except to urge parties to move it along to resolution. Maybe it was done differently b/4 but it is time to conduct Village business on the edge of the norm instead of like the previous administration of talking around the facts. The magic words the Board needs to hear is that the old way is not the new transparency. Keep it up Anan!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 6:54 PM

Transparency - I have never seen a negotiating session between a corporation, school district, etc. that was held at a public meeting. I have always assumed that it would be impossible to reach agreement in a public forum. There are also a lot of technical issues in a negotiation because of complexity. That's why there are always a bundle of lawyers at the table. Executive session for negotiations does not imply a secret meeting under a Cone of Silence. Most negotiators and the leaders of the organization address the status of negotiations on a regular basis; including discussion of details which they think will not impact a negotiation solution. Thing to remember is that the rest of the world does not follow OP Board Protocols.

Transparency is good  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 5:42 PM

Why must collective bargaining negotiations be held behind closed doors in the first place? Union contracts are not discussions about individuals. There is no legal requirement that the negotiations be closed. Why is this a problem at all?

Adam Wallace from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 1:35 PM

And in response to Trustee Lueck's comments..Thank god Anan IS NOT following protocol. Protocol has gotten us to the years long stalemate with the union, it's time for new policies not those of politicians that have been in office for decades

Adam Wallace from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 1:33 PM

Anan didn't expose any secrets or speak inappropriately for the board. Johnson and Lueck's comments are ridiculous. Anan said "It is public knowledge that we as a board have been meeting in the executive session about collective bargaining; We as a board are committed to a positive environment. We are committed to our staff and we want to have the best possible relationship." If Johnson and Lueck disagree with those statements they need to publicly say that. How is there outrage over wanting a positive environment? or a good working relationship with employees? These are campaign goals that Anan clearly articulated. Anan won the election and is Village President, he once again earned my vote. He was elected to lead our Village, I'm glad were seeing him break the status quo! The most frightening thing from this article was "Johnson, who has been a trustee for more than a decade, said Abu-Taleb went "too far" with his comments and overstated what's happening in the process.". Maybe after a decade long term on the board it's time for Ray Johnson to move on from Oak Park politics! Keep it up Anan! You campaigned on these ideas, were elected on these ideas, were still behind you!

Craig from Oak Park  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 12:35 PM

Johnson and Brewer should resign and open up a whine store.

Dave from Oak Park  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 11:06 AM

So sick of the self importance of Ray Johnson and his ilk. They need to go. Anan said nothing, shed a little positive light on an issue RayJ and his insider cronies haven't been able to fix for years. So ironic that in such a wonderfully liberal town our junta of leaders who know better than the rest of us on how we want to live are upset that someone not of their own making actually wants an open, participatory government. RayJ, quit playing games and find another town to screw up.

GizmoDog  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 10:18 AM

Yeah, I agree with those posters who think that Anan did nothing wrong making comments about a quick resolution to the THREE year labor negotiations. But, I have a hard time seeing I am in agreement with Ray Hanania, the former PR spokesman for the Town of Cicero. Now there was, and still is a bastion of open government.

Lynn from Oak Park 60304  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 9:41 AM

Shame on the Old Board that this issue is still dragging on two years later and hooray for Anan. Why are these two trustees nit-picking and why didn't they help solve this problem two years ago. Lets move Forward! Anan said nothing wrong!

Mike Lennox from Oak Park  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 8:46 AM

Sounds like Anan is building the bridge with the Oak Park citizens,Village employees,Unions etc. and getting over it. Three Years! Really !!!!!!

Steve Bankes from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 8:38 AM

Perfectly reasonable remarks, made by the appropriate person not for personal benefit, but for the benefit of Oak Park. Save the mock outrage.

Ray Hanania from Orland Park  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 7:24 AM

Abu-Taleb's comments were positive and good for the community. Why would the other board members not like them? Sounds like there is more going on than a dislike for making non-specific generalizations about executive sessions, which is NOT illegal, and should be done more often when it benefits the community.

Kevin lougachi from Oak park  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 6:42 AM

It's time the trustees fell in line with public opinion. Perhaps it's time they stepped down and allowed new blood to come in.

Cynical from Oak Park  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 5:13 AM

I was at the meeting and here is what I found odd: there were quite a few members of the SEIU.in attendance when there was nothing on the agenda related to the SEIU. The President of the Union began recording the President's comments immediately upon him speaking....how did he know to do that? Was this a set-up? Remember folks, the SEIU endorsed and gave money to the President's campaign. I'm worried the President gave the impression the village will settle at all costs.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 12:50 AM

Jim C, Re your quote "I'm not sure if executive sessions discussions should be disclosed to the public without informing trustees......" Anan did not give information from the executive session. He gave an opinion on the progress and a statement on how important getting a resolution to the 3 Year delay in negotiation. Any trustee can do that from without permission at his board seat, George's, or and OPRF Football Game. Consider the fact that in other lands, it is not unusual for board members and staff to say the negotiations are going well, stalled, or boring. There should be no reason to have a Get Smart Cone of Silence unless statements would reveal strategic information to the public or damage a person reputation. How many times have you read or heard on TV or radio that negotiations are stalled over pay increase, vacation days, or benefits? The lack of transparency with the residents has put OP in a deep hole. People speaking their minds are a critical step in recovery. We need a board protocol that says, "Leave your politics at home!"

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: August 21st, 2013 12:24 AM

If this statement is deemed "inappropriate" and "shocking," I can only imagine how some Trustees feel about the community forum Anan is holding on the 28th at the library.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 11:57 PM

I'm not sure if executive sessions discussions should be disclosed to the public without informing trustees but there have been too many instances when the board has made closed door decisions without seeking input from or even informing residents and taxpayers until after the fact. The real estate purchase of a Westgate property was not revealed prior to closing nor the many thousands of dollars Village Hall arranged to be paid to a few select insiders for participating in the deal. If President Anan intends to shed light on questionable practices; he will find support from Oak Parkers.

Coco  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 11:20 PM

Good for you Anan. Brewer, Lueck and Johnson need to dust their musty selves off and get on board. Their antics are so obvious. They are standing in the way of any progress you are trying to make. Don't tolerate it. This is not about the VMA. Are you Trustees listening? Stop embarrassing yourselves.

Galen Gockel from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 11:00 PM

Our Village Prez won 58.3% of the vote, surprising everyone, including VMA stalwarts who assumed they were invincible. That resulted from citizen upset--wide and deep--with the inert performance of recent Village Boards and staff. Anan called for change, the voters responded positively and he is keeping his promise. Each time the 3 trustees wedded to the VMA speak, they offend key constituencies and drive another nail into the the coffin of that once-admirable political organization. Sad.

Baz from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 10:44 PM

I urge anyone to read Anan's comments and find something objectionable in them. Sounds like he's setting a positive tone.

long time resident  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 9:53 PM

So some of the board members are upset because the Village President said that all board members want a positive environment? Would they be happier if he had said the some of the board members want to make people miserable? Time for the board members to grow up and work with the person the village elected to be Village President.

Enojado Employee from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 9:47 PM

I worked for the village and I heard a lot about "improving customer service as a top priority." Maybe if the village gave decent wages customer service wouldn't be an issue, but feel free Oak Parkers to keep complaining and yelling at the workers they do make all the stupid decisions. Also the management is poor. It's beyond poor! Some managers don't have proper credentials or experience. You have an interim parking manager...who has NO PREVIOUS experience and is RUNNING PARKING

Rob Alford from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 9:46 PM

This is exactly the style of leadership we need. Constant efforts at consensus only produce gridlock. We need more non-VMA people at the next election to finally drive some real change.

Marianne Schiavone from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 9:28 PM

Anan, thank you for demonstrating leadership. It's high time for the board to show it is ready to move forward now. Enough deliberation !

Joseph Lyons  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 7:43 PM

How anti-democratic do you have to be to object to the citizens even knowing the subject matter of a closed door session? The open meetings act carves out a few exceptions that the board chooses to avail themselves of. I get the impression some Trustee's would prefer that all Board discussion was entirely secret until a decision could be announced to the public. Anan is moving the Village to a more transparent government.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 7:09 PM

It is absurd to attack Anan for leading a discussion with the residents. The board's silence in the past was a cancer that weakened the trust in its government. Secrecy was used when both Barwin was forced out and when the new village manager hired. Secrecy was used on the Tiger grant, the Sertus project, etc. As far as board protocol goes, they can't be a Holy Grail until they are published on the website. I am aghast at Trustee Johnson's statement that ""There is nothing to say at this moment except that we want to be fair to employees and we want to be fair for tax payers," After ten years on the board you would think Johnson would know that the RESIDENTS COME FIRST. Anan has made that clear since he has been in office. It is time for Three Whineeteers to recognize that Oak Park is ready for change.

Steve  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 6:33 PM

The honeymoon is over...

joan haman from oak park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 6:21 PM

Yep! Tjhe VMA folks want things to go on as they always have. Good to ruffle their feathers once in a while and get the village moving in a positive way. We elected Anan, now VMA, let him do his job. Perhaps some non VMA people will decide to run in the next election. Hint - hint.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 5:50 PM

In general, in the past, too many executive sessions have been called when subjects should have been discussed in public.

Robert Milstein from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 5:25 PM

President Abu Taleb speaks in general terms about the desire to work together and resolve an issue. Not a specific detail was stated. Thus, the VMA trio are concerned about what? Anan is who we voted for because he wants people working for a common purpose. Go Anan!

Village Voice from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 5:01 PM

This is on par with our do-nothing state legislators sueing the governor for sequestering their paychecks. Hows about the Business-As-Usual Party trustees getting behind the President the voters of Oak Park elected to lead them?

Adam Smith  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 4:39 PM

Thank you Anan. Time to shake things up. Johnson, Brewer and Lueck, pay attention to the comments on this article. You do NOT represent the majority of this community. Change or get out of the way.

Leslie from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 4:20 PM

Is it proper protocol to run after the press to complain about one of your colleagues? Is that part of the story true?

Unfortunately  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 4:09 PM

Mr. Grossman and Mr. Bracco have said exactly what I was thinking while reading the article - only they expressed it much better than I ever could. Gracias.

Paul from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 4:00 PM

How could a couple trustees be upset with the Village President saying, "We are serious about trying to resolve this issue and I hope that the union is also thinking in the same terms because nothing would make us happier than getting it done." I hope each side thinks that. This seems more personal than anything else.

Anna Lothson from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 3:58 PM

To answer the question below: The village president is paid an annual salary of $10,800, while trustees each earn $7,200. This figure comes from Village Communication Director David Powers.

No more Status Quo  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 3:28 PM

How bout we can em all and hire all new non-union employees that will actually work for the residents. Go get Anan!

Luke ScottWalker from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 3:25 PM

First, to Question, Trustees get an annual stipend in the $ 5K range. It's not a large sum, based on the hours they put in. 2nd, muntz is exactly correct. VOP has 6 or 7 separate bargaining units. Other than police/fire/1st responders, there is no reason for any other VOP employee to have a union. None. If admin employees aren't capable of figuring their own worth for those jobs, they shouldn't be doing them. All SEIU does is stir up trouble & reduce productivity.

muntz  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 3:11 PM

Bigger question...why have govt unions at all? Collusion between the employer (govt) and the employees' union is inherent. Both groups are essentially on the same side of the bargaining table. Union dues are essentially political slush funds used to back whatever candidate will expand their benefits at taxpayer expense. Let's be the first village to non-unionize!

Reality Check  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 3:07 PM

I could tell from the way he ran his campaign that he was a natural autocrat, and Anan finally tipped his hand by pretending to speak for the entire board last night, breaking trust with the trustees and the residents of Oak Park. I'm sure there is more where that came from.

Lisa from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 3:07 PM

Anan- keep up the good work! You are living up to your promise of open government. Maybe the other members will get a clue that the status quo is no longer going to fly in OP anymore. I am proud I voted for you!

Question from Op  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 3:05 PM

How much do Village Trustees make a year?....Love to know....

Patricia O'Shea from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 3:04 PM

Every time something like this happens Lueck, Johnson and Brewer get one step closer to the door. We are a community of educated professionals who all have to "play nice" in our organizations every day. It's crystal clear when individuals are engaging in "taking my ball home" behavior.

OP Resident #911 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 2:46 PM

"I was not elected by the community to just put my head down and keep things the way they are". Love it, Anan. That's exactly why you were elected. Keep up the good work. Trustees Johnson and Lueck could resign if they don't like their president speaking for them. Only problem is, based on multiple uncontested races in the last election, no one wants their seats so it would leave a bit of a gap if they did resign.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 2:44 PM

I agree with Marty that the offense here seems small if at all. Time for board to get to work and put the smiles back on the faces at Village Hall.

kathryn from oak park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 2:35 PM

It would be helpful if the Village disclosed the amount of tax dollars handed over to outside attorneys over the last 10-15 years fighting the employee's unions and their arbitration rights. The mood at Village Hall has been gloomy for years making for poor relations with the public and anyone who needs to deal with Village Hall. I welcome President Anan's efforts to remedy this.

Tired of Taxes from Oak Park  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 2:32 PM

I think the other trustees were expressing false outrage. They have been waiting for a chance to zing the new president and he gave them a little something. Doing things the usual way has led to a lot of bad and expensive decisions in the past. It is time for a little more candid dialogue and let's put away the false outrage please.

Marty Bracco from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 2:30 PM

Assuming that what is printed here is accurate, Anan in my opinion did nothing unusual or inappropriate. In my experience Executive Sessions are often for the purpose of discussing employment-related matters. His comments were non-specific and therefore, seem perfectly reasonable.

Chris Carrier  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 2:25 PM

Reading all these complaints about standards and protocols makes you understand why little often gets done. "Hey! He's not carnival personnel!"

OP Res 253 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 2:25 PM

Hilarious! Ray Jay thinks Anan "spoke out of turn" when he really said little, and nothing of substance. But then he goes to the press and bad mouths his fellow board member, the president. Yep, Ray continues his "unity" efforts.

Stop Whining  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 2:24 PM

Figures it is Johnson and Lueck whining like little babies. Guess we can lump Brewer in with the two petulant children who remain pissed about Abu-Taleb having the audacity to win the election.

"Edge"  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 2:12 PM

Thank you Mr. President.

craig c from southport, ct  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 1:44 PM

Perhaps the Village President is trying to break the choking gridlock of trying to get ANYTHING done in the Village of Oak Park. Perhaps it was breaking tradition but the "tradition" isn't working. Backing Anan on this one.

Hank Marquardt from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 20th, 2013 1:43 PM

For something that's not had resolution in 3 years, I think it's OK to ruffle a few feathers and make people uncomfortable. That said, he has to maintain his relationships to get anything done, so a balance has to be maintained. As a one off event, I'd have to say "well played".

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