Village President Vicki Scaman got the new Oak Park village board moving during its May 10 meeting by discussing board protocols – a process that occurs every two years with the seating of a new board.
“It is a guidance document and it’s up to the village board to change this to how it works for this group,” said Village Manager Cara Pavlicek.
During protocol discussions, board members examined the logistics of agenda setting, structure of commissions, public comment time and the scheduling of meetings and executive sessions.
One of the first decisions made by the board was the designation of 7 p.m. as the start time for village board meetings, which typically occur on Mondays, with executive sessions beginning at 6:30 p.m. The board agreed to allow a meeting start time of 7:30 p.m. when necessary. Meetings will end at the latest at 10:30 p.m. Scaman expressed her desire to keep the length of meetings to two hours when possible.
Going through the protocols had the added benefits of educating new board members, as well as reminding senior trustees, about the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – two important pieces of legislation that protect the rights of citizenry to be informed on government business.
“As your previous village clerk, somebody who processed a lot of FOIAs, I really want you to understand this piece,” said Scaman. “You really want to avoid texting –
even if it’s ‘What are you having for dinner tonight?’ – during a board meeting.”
FOIA grants the public access to government records and communication, excluding what discussions take place during executive sessions. Emails, schedules, text messages concerning public matters and phone records of elected officials are available to the public through FOIA. Text messages sent during meetings are also subject to FOIA, even if elected officials are using their personal cell phones and the contents of the texts are unrelated to government issues.
“Any communication that’s conducted during a meeting between board members becomes a public document,” said Village Attorney Paul Stephanides.
Stephanides’s comment got a laugh out of Trustee Susan Buchanan, who served two years on the village board before learning that information.
“You never told us that!” said Buchanan through laughter.
The giggles spread to Scaman, who jokingly reprimanded Buchanan by telling her, “Don’t want to encourage any FOIAs, Susan.”
Email can present complicated situations regarding OMA, according to Scaman. To prevent any OMA violations, village board protocol directs board members to blind copy all board members when responding to an email directly for the purpose of “avoiding contemporaneous communications” and “to inform the other members of the board that the email has been responded to by an elected official.”
The protocol discussion allowed the village board to review standards of professional conduct regarding communications with staff, at the request of Trustee Jim Taglia, the most senior trustee.
“The last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot – and the public doesn’t see this, but I’ve seen a lot of accusatory, defamatory, demeaning language used,” said Taglia.
Scaman agreed to add language to the protocol document to encourage elected officials to communicate with staff in a courteous and professional manner.
The village board will likely not adopt the updated protocol document until its May 24 meeting; the board will discuss goal setting at its next meeting, scheduled May 17.
Scaman to use village president title
With a new village board comes a new outlook — and an old title. At least for Vicki Scaman, who succeeds Anan Abu-Taleb as head of the Oak Park Village Board. Unlike her predecessor, Scaman has decided to eschew the title of “mayor” in favor of the traditional “village president.”
“That is how I view the role in a village manager form of government,” said Scaman, who first announced her intention to be called village president during a March 4 forum for village president candidates hosted by Wednesday Journal and the Business and Civic Council.
While Scaman acknowledged that the two labels can be used interchangeably in many respects, she believes the term “mayor” gives the impression of sole leadership rather than multi-stakeholder governance.
“I want to be very strong and clear: I’m working with trustees,” she said. “It’s not my way or the highway.”