More than a year after starting to work on a binding new set of ethics rules, the River Forest village board Monday voted down a lengthy and detailed proposal presented by minority Trustee Steve Dudek.
Dudek, who has been leading the process since it was brought back before the board in July, asked the board for an up-or-down vote — pushing the matter so that the village could have a stronger ethics ordinance on the books before the controversial Lake and Lathrop development comes before the board later this year.
However, after about half an hour of debate over Dudek’s proposed ordinance, the board disintegrated once again into raised voices, and it quickly became clear that nothing would be passed.
The main source of controversy was Trustee Susan Conti’s counterproposal — that the village instead consider the simpler ethics policy from the town of Wendell, N.C., over Dudek’s much longer ordinance adopted from Park Ridge.
While Conti had brought the Wendell ordinance up in July and at several meetings since then, she hadn’t responded directly to Dudek’s request for suggested changes to his ordinance before Monday night’s meeting.
Instead, at 3:30 p.m. the day of the meeting, she sent out a copy of Wendell’s ethics policy that she had modified slightly for River Forest.
At the meeting, she implored the board to consider Wendell’s model instead, as a simpler, more straightforward and understandable set of rules.
“I think it’s a better version of an ethics ordinance for a number of reasons — I can read it,” Conti said. “Anyone who reads it can understand it without parsing through legal language for hours.”
Trustee Mike Gibbs agreed that Dudek’s modified Park Ridge ordinance was simply too dense. Wendell’s ethics policy, he said, was much easier to understand — and to follow.
“A one-liner that says what it means is better than a paragraph that makes my eyes spin like a slot machine,” Gibbs said. “If we were to make a decision on what we were to adopt — Shakespeare vs. Doonesbury — no offense, Bill, but I think I’d take the easier to read, easier to adopt policy.”
But the village’s attorney, Lance Malina, said that’s partly because Wendell wrote their ethics standards as a policy, not an ordinance — a distinction that makes the rules pack a little less punch.
“When you do ordinances, some of that legalistic stuff is impossible not to put in there because you need that legal clarity,” Malina said.
However, Malina said, the Wendell policy could be turned into an ordinance.
When the debate returned to Dudek, he addressed the board’s concerns one by one in an uncharacteristically calm manner.
“I thought it was important that we get something passed before we deal with all the rest of the TIF money,” Dudek said.
However, as other members of the board continued to pick at Dudek’s ordinance, tempers flared and the debate broke down.
“If there are parts of that document that you want in here, I don’t have a problem with that. But you know what? Nobody gave me anything,” Dudek said. “So if what you’re saying is right now, and I’m going to get specific comments about what you want to put in [from the Wendell policy], and where you want them, that would be great — that would be wonderful. But to throw the baby out with the bathwater? That’s ridiculous.”
Eventually, the board voted down Dudek’s ordinance 4-2, with trustees Dudek and Steve Hoke voting yes, and trustees Gibbs, Conti, Jim Winikates and Cathy Adduci voting no.