A seemingly simple proposal to move the publication date of Oak Park Village Board meeting agendas up from Thursdays to Tuesdays met with contention from Trustee Deno Andrews and Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb at a special meeting, Sept. 23.
Trustee Simone Boutet proposed making upcoming meeting agendas available to the public two days sooner, saying, “People in the community are still advocating that our agenda go out earlier.”
Boutet said she didn’t see any harm in publishing a preliminary agenda to the public prior to the usual Thursday publication date.
“When you talk about the public, you’re talking about one person or two people,” Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb said.
Boutet asked Abu-Taleb what he meant, to which he replied with slight incredulity, “The whole community wants us to publish the agenda on Tuesdays?”
“People generally …” Boutet began, then the mayor interjected, “The whole community wants to do that?”
“People generally talk about wanting to have our information a little bit earlier,” Boutet said.
Trustee Deno Andrews disagreed, saying, “To be honest, in two years, I’ve never had a single person tell me they want the agenda earlier.”
When Boutet asked what’s the harm in publishing sooner, Andrews countered with, “It’s not that there’s harm. It’s just, let’s not say we speak for the community because none of us really do.”
“OK, so forgetting the public, I’m just saying …,” Boutet began again.
“It’s not forgetting. But see, you’re putting words in my mouth now,” Andrews said, adding that, though he agreed with a need for greater board transparency, he did not see the necessity in publishing the agenda sooner.
The proposed change in publication date, Boutet said, is for the people who want to know what’s coming up.
“But shouldn’t we know what it entails to do that?” asked Andrews. “That means all the staff work is going to have to be the week before.”
Boutet said no additional preparation on the part of village staff corresponded with bumping up the publication date by two days. The only extra work involved in publishing earlier is the press of a button in their computer system, she said, changing the mode from private to public.
Trustee Susan Buchanan showed some support for Boutet’s idea, saying, “There are residents and commissions who plan their next Monday evening based on when their issue is coming up. When they find out Friday and they have to arrange child care or something, giving them a heads-up just seems worthwhile.”
Andrews voiced concern that if the board made the agenda available to the public on Tuesdays, and then removed an item, they run the risk of having people show up to meetings unaware that their item had been pulled. Boutet said that wouldn’t happen.
Buchanan said she worried about the confusion that a Tuesday agenda may cause the community. She suggested a preliminary agenda be made public on Tuesdays and a finalized agenda on Thursdays.
The Mayor saw no reason to make any changes. “I don’t know why we would change things that are working because one person talked to you about it,” he said to Boutet.
She said that when she was elected, the community had repeatedly asked to put meeting information out sooner.
“So it’s about whether we’re here for the people …,” Boutet began.
Andrews interrupted, “What does that mean, Simone? That’s nonsense. It sounds great on a motivational poster; it’s not policy.”
“It’s not nonsense,” Boutet replied. “It’s about giving people the time to prepare, to know what’s on our agenda.”
“It’s plenty of time! I haven’t heard one complaint,” Andrews countered.
This prompted an outburst from audience member Joshua Klayman, “You haven’t been listening, Deno!” Klayman said, as he stormed out of the room. Klayman, founder of the Oak Park community group VOICE, spoke earlier at the meeting. He also ran for trustee this past spring.
Boutet said she didn’t understand why the proposed change was so controversial. To which Andrews, replied, “It’s not controversial. It’s busy work because there’s not a problem.” He added, “I’m still here for the people and the children.”
The deciding vote came down to Trustee James Taglia, who saw no need to change the publication date.