Oak Park trustees will wait until next week to vote on a possible change to its liquor ordinances that would resolve a conflict of interest for its incoming village president. After putting a possible solution on the agenda, Village President David Pope announced at the start of Monday’s meeting that the issue would be tabled.
The village board will decide May 6 whether to change local liquor ordinances that currently create a conflict by specifying that the village president also serves as the village liquor commissioner. The change would allow trustees to choose another elected official to fill that role. Anan Abu-Taleb, village president-elect, owns Maya del Sol restaurant and his family holds an Oak Park liquor license.
“We’ll talk about it next week,” said Trustee Colette Lueck.
Officials are awaiting for the Illinois General Assembly to approve – and Gov. Pat Quinn to sign –an amendment to a Prohibition-era state law that currently bars suburban mayors or village presidents who own liquor licenses to serve as local liquor control commissioners if the communities that elected them have populations of 50,000 or less.
A bill moving quickly through the Illinois House would bump the population threshold to 55,000, exempting Oak Park from the law. Senate Bill 724, sponsored by State Sen. Don Harmon, passed the Illinois Senate 47-3 on April 18. The bill, sponsored in the Illinois House by local representatives Camille Lilly and LaShawn K. Ford, will be taken up in the House Executive Committee on May 1.
The law also would allow Oak Park to have an elected official other than the village president serve as liquor commissioner.
State law has to be amended before Oak Park can change its ordinance. Between now and Friday, when the agenda for the next board meeting will be published, staff will assess what kind of alternatives can be taken should the House fail to approve the measure before Monday’s meeting.
In a recent interview, Harmon noted that it was sensible to update the law because it wasn’t fair to ban a person like Abu-Taleb, who won by a 16-percent landslide, simply because he owns a restaurant with a liquor license.
Residents agreed. “Times have changed,” said John Gearen, during public comment at Monday’s meeting. “Why make him a second class citizen? Let’s level out the discrimination and handle this.” Gearen is the son of John Gearen, Sr. who was village president in the early 1970s when Oak Park wrote its current liquor laws as a tool for economic development. Gearen’s cousin is married to Abu-Taleb.
Gene Armstrong, who helped write Oak Park’s early liquor laws with Gearen Sr. told trustees that they should create a short term fix for the problem and then set a limited timetable for a village commission to recommend a way to “figure out a way to get this done,” he said. “Set a policy….Get this right.”
Abu-Taleb declined comment.