Oak Park's president-elect still faces liquor, ethics issue

State Senate passes new law to address liquor commissioner role

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

One campaign hurdle for Oak Park's President-Elect Anan Abu-Taleb is about to be eliminated with the backing of State Senator Don Harmon, but locally, the issue isn't off the table.

In early March the question of if Anan Abu-Taleb, the village's president-elect, could be village president and also hold ownership of Maya del Sol came into play. Under state and local law, a restaurant owner of an establishment with a liquor license would be prohibited due to a conflict of interest. A local ordinance designates the village president as the official liquor commissioner of the village and state law extends that to communities of 50,000 or less.

The topic has been tossed around between current village trustees and no final solution has been determined locally, but in Springfield, Harmon, who represents Oak Park, got new legislation through the State Senate that would bump the population threshold up to 55,000. At the state level, this would make Oak Park and five additional communities exempt from the law.

The measure, Senate Bill 724, passed the Illinois Senate 47-3 on April 18 and is expected to be taken up by the House when it returns to the Capitol in two weeks.

"One of the things we're elected to do as state legislators is address pressing issues in our home communities. In this case, we had someone supported by 60 percent of Oak Park voters who was technically prevented from serving as president while owning a restaurant," Harmon wrote in a news release sent out Monday. "With the approaching May 6 swearing-in of the new village board, I saw this as important, urgent, needed action."

In a follow-up interview, Harmon said he doesn't want to see the will of the people ignored, and since Oak Parker's backed Abu-Taleb, there shouldn't be an old law prohibiting that. The law was amended last year to allow towns of 50,000 or less to be exempt, which left 33 communities in Illinois under the law.

The laws stems from a 1934 Liquor Control Act, which Harmon said could be tied to the Prohibition-era, and established that suburban mayors or village presidents would also serve as local liquor control commissioner, but to avoid conflicts of interest, could not hold liquor licenses in the communities that elected them.

Harmon said it's sensible to update the law because it isn't fair to ban a person like Abu-Taleb, who was heavily supported in his community, simply because he owns a restaurant with a liquor license. The senator didn't contact Abu-Taleb until after the April 9 election and the issue came up when he called to congratulate him, Harmon said.

The new law, if adopted, allows Abu-Taleb to keep his liquor license for Maya del Sol restaurant, but it would also need the direction of the village board to appoint a replacement liquor commissioner.

Harmon's amendment to the Liquor Control Act was attached to a "vehicle bill" which was introduced in January. Such vehicles often are introduced at the beginning of the session and moved through the legislative process so they are in place to address issues that may arise in certain laws or sections of Illinois law.

Harmon also said that during the April 18 debate on the senate floor, questions were raised about whether the overall law was even needed at all, and some suggested that the General Assembly strike it from the statutes during its 2014 session.

"Restaurateurs are often popular people in their communities and perhaps should not have to decide between their businesses and their elected offices," Harmon wrote. "Many business owners in other lines of work run for local office."

For Oak Park, however, it's a matter of addressing its ethics ordinance, which references potential conflicts of interest for elected officials.

No formal meeting has been held at the village board level about how to resolve the local implications of the matter. Village Trustee Bob Tucker said he hasn't seen any proposals, but anticipates something being brought to the board soon. There may be a possibility the board appoints another trustee to be the liquor commissioner.

During the campaign, there was the suggestion that Abu-Taleb must give up ownership to be in compliance with the ethics ordinance or that the liquor license role needs to be updated to bring him into compliance. Before the election, Abu-Taleb said he would divest himself of ownership in Maya if necessary though he was never specific in how that might be accomplished.

Abu-Taleb said Harmon's handling the issue in Springfield could help fix the local matter.

"At some base level that (population change) seems like it was an arbitrary number in the first place. But in the narrow case of Oak Park, Senator Harmon is removing a hurdle to Anan serving as village president," Tucker said. "If Anan is not going to divest himself of ownership in Maya, then we are going to have to examine this locally. We're going to have to look at something in a way that exempts him."

In addition to being village president, Oak Park's liquor commissioner is a non-voting member of the village's Liquor Control Review Board. Since village presidents have not typically attended the meetings of the liquor board, a chairperson is appointed by the liquor commissioner with the ratification of the village board. The role of the liquor control review board is to investigate and review all applications and renewals of liquor licenses.

The paperwork for the licenses is processed through the village clerk's office and the review board acts merely as a body to recommend whether a license should be approved or not. The group has no final say about licenses, as that's up to the village board. The liquor board meets roughly once a month, but being the village's liquor commissioner doesn't mean attending the meeting is necessary

Mas Takiguchi, a member of the liquor control review board, who served as one of Abu-Taleb's legal counsels during the campaign, said Village President David Pope didn't attend meetings and was more of a figurehead for the group. His only role, said Takiguchi, was providing signatures on official documents.

Abu-Taleb said during the campaign he'd look at divesting himself of ownership in the restaurant, but with the backing of Harmon and a majority of Oak Parkers, he said he's hoping the board will agree to appoint a new liquor commissioner.

The restaurateur and newly elected president said he's proud of Harmon's leadership on this issue, saying that the senator is helping aid the voice of the people. Abu-Taleb also wants the concern to be eliminated for other business owners who may want to run for elected office.

"He felt the community spoke and spoke clearly," Abu-Taleb said. "It's fulfilling the voice of the community. That's really my take."

He said he's hopeful the new board will appoint a new liquor commissioner so the ethics issue is addressed. He's hoping as the elected choice to be village president, he won't have to give up his livelihood to serve as president.

"If that conflict of interest is removed it is a win-win for everybody," Abu-Taleb said.
"The campaign is over. People have spoken and spoken loudly. I'm sure what we do will be what's best for the community and I'm sure they will make a conclusion."

Still, Abu-Taleb knows it's up to his six colleagues on the board.

"It's a decision they have to make. Ideally, what I would like, after I'm sworn in, I want to focus on issues that matter to our community and not be bogged down in something that won't benefit anyone."

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Posted: April 29th, 2013 8:46 AM

Jim - how do you know me? How am I a hypocrite? I haven't made accusations. Just stated that the level of involvement from state level officials is suspect to me. Bridgett - you're not smarter than everyone so try not to be so patronizing. My "motive" was to have a conversation, clearly I'm in the wrong spot. And I don't have any VMA ties....I don't participate in the VMA. Please do not transfer your hatred of me to them - that would not be fair to them.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 27th, 2013 6:43 PM

I would agree with you, but the Anan legal subject was challenged and vetted throughout the election. If the vetting was not complete, then Megan should produce new information. If a conspiracy is involved then the events should be discussed with legal professional and new facts submitted. Simply shouting bitter words without action is not fair to ALL the elected officials that have been accused.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 27th, 2013 5:31 PM

You guys are being awful rough on Megan. I think that Megan is guilty of nothing more than a chronic case of cynicism. Considering the news and history of Chicago and our great state of Illinois is that so surprising. Time will tell if Megan is right in her views. Having a "not so fast to buy in attitude" is probably not unhealthy in this day and age.


Posted: April 27th, 2013 7:07 AM

@Megan-you truly are a hypocrite. You make crazed, illogical and unsubstantiated statements and demand that all who read them ignore the elephant in the room. I, as well as the majority of the OP electorate, don't agree with you that is to be sure. But I do know you and you have made your motives clear in this blog. If you have a real complaint, the circuit court awaits you. Until then, get your other VMA whack-a-doodles together and do something productive to improve our village for a change.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2013 8:42 PM

OK, as we climb out of that rabbit hole and get back to the topic...looking at the agenda for the next Village Board meeting, because state law is mandatory, the village ordinance needs to be amended so that it does not conflict with state law. So the ordinance will be amended if the state law is amended. BTW, now looking online at the history of this amendment to state bill 724, it was introduced by Sen. John Cullerton three months ago, on January 24th.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2013 6:09 PM

Megan said on 4/25 at 2:45 pm, "You don't need to make such judgments about people you don't know and have not talked to." Amen to that! :)

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 26th, 2013 5:34 PM

Alright, Megan. I give up. You cracked the big conspiracy. Some of Illinois' most powerful political figures clearly fixed the election for Oak Park village president, and now Anan owes them favors. The vast might of the OP president is now at their disposal. Take your evidence to the State's Attorney. Convictions are assured all around. We'll all read about it in the paper. Unless, of course, it's bunch of crap from a bitter woman who doesn't know what she's talking about.

Megan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2013 5:08 PM

Nope. Not in Chicago (and you can stop using the blago behind prison walls line - I simply included his name because he had already done him a favor...one that landed him where he is today). You don't agree with me, and that's fine. I hope you're right...but I just don't think so.

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 26th, 2013 4:58 PM

"It's not a stretch to believe" that an imprisoned former governor has somehow reached out beyond the prison walls to ensure that a local business owner became president of a medium-sized village? And Madigan, White, and Harmon, all senior state officials, are also in on this grand plan? All so some guy you'd never heard of a year ago could become president of Oak park? That's not a stretch? Because somehow, they all need the awesome power of the village president on their side? Really?

Megan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2013 4:45 PM

With all do respect to you and your friend, he was already found guilty of illegal behavior, I don't have to prove that. And my feelings are not delicate - I'm simply pointing out that you've chosen to be nasty when I'm choosing to raise questions that I have every right to raise. It is not a stretch to think that because of those relationships decisions will be made in the future based on those ties instead of the best interests of the community. But...if he's your friend.......

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 26th, 2013 4:01 PM

Megan - You're accusing someone I know personally and like of criminal behavior on a public forum with no proof whatsoever, so I'm not all that concerned about your delicate feelings. If you have evidence of any wrongdoing related to Anan's election, report it. If not, lay of the vague accusations of "favors". If you're going to accuse him of something, figure out what it is, first. Then maybe line up some evidence beyond what you kinda think might be happening, maybe.


Posted: April 26th, 2013 3:55 PM

You write that I'm crazy because I believe "senior state officials conspire to make an obscure local restaurateur village president". I agree...it's a crazy insignifigant thing to them, right? So, tell me why it was again that Jesse White Robocalled Oak Park residents and within 10 days of the election a LAW has been ammended in Springfield? No matter how silly the law seems to you....


Posted: April 26th, 2013 3:49 PM

Now it's just to get a rise out of me, which you won't do. I can't even address you as you won't even include your name. I hope it feels good to you to belittle someone you don't know for having thoughts different from your own. I have said not one mean or patronizing or personal thing about anyone posting on this board. If you don't have anything nice to say.....

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 26th, 2013 3:39 PM

Megan - Be thankful to the posters who assume your motives are to discredit Anan after his victory. It's better than if they actually think you believe your nonsensical conspiracy theory wherein senior state officials conspire to make an obscure local restaurateur village president. To your credit, we believe you to be bitter, but not crazy.


Posted: April 26th, 2013 11:28 AM

Thank you, John.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 26th, 2013 11:25 AM

Megan, I would contact the State's Attorney General's office.

Megan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2013 9:39 AM

Again...addressing me and what you think you know about me and not what I'm talking about. You don't know me, Jim, so I'll ask you, please don't attempt to speak for me and/or dismiss me. If my questions or the issues I'm discussing are annoying to you - feel free to skip reading the post when you see my name at the top of it. The election is over, so this actually has NOTHING to do with that.


Posted: April 26th, 2013 9:19 AM

@Megan-your motives are clear, even if you refuse to admit them. Your guy lost and you are unhappy. You want to blame your loss on some phantom state conspiracy. The VMA campaign was mismanaged and it was outworked. Its really that simple. Now its time to move on.


Posted: April 26th, 2013 7:59 AM

Mr. Murtagh, exacatly how would one go about filing a complaint? Who with? I am actually new to village politics and have only really started to dig because of whats happening right now. So, you might know better than me.

Megan Dunn from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2013 7:57 AM

OP Transplant - If you don't agree, then don't agree, but please don't tell me my motives. And obviously Blago is in jail, but guess who isn't, Madigan, Harmon, White....have you ever talked to someone who had the joy of trying to do business with Madigan? And Bridgett - having the ability to get someone in IL government on the phone, and having to take someone in IL governments call because they did you that favor....very different. Not really a head scratcher if you ask me.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 26th, 2013 1:43 AM

{{Scratches head}} Don't we want our local elected officials to have good relations with folks at the state and even the federal levels? Oak Park has a "small town" feel, but, we are known not just statewide, but nationally and internationally. I'd bet the current Village President has some IL elected officials programmed in to his mobile phone. Having such relationships is not unusual.

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 25th, 2013 5:34 PM

Megan - When you say that these "favors" don't come for free, I'm not sure what you're implying. Blago is going to call in some favor from prison and ask Anan to do...what? What do Madigan or Harmon need from the village president of Oak Park? I think it's really about trying to discredit Anan because you wanted Hedges to win.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 25th, 2013 3:09 PM

Megan - if you feel so strongly about possible malfeasance in government, you probably should file a complaint so the truth can come out. Frankly, I think the subjects have been vetted and it is time to go on, but I defend your right to surface new information.

Megan from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: April 25th, 2013 2:45 PM

It's not that basic, OP Transplant. You don't need to make such judgements about people you don't know and have not talked to. Regardless of if I'm happy he won or not, It is beyond concerning the number of state level politicians that have had a hand in Anan getting to where he is. Like Anan or not - any influence from the likes of Rod Blagojevich, Jesse White, Harmon or Madigan is enough reason to give someone pause. Favors from them don't come for free! Period.

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 25th, 2013 9:18 AM

Mike - There are, of course, other solutions. Anan's opponents are clinging to this anachronistic local ordinance like it's one of the Ten Commandments for one reason: to punish Anan for winning. And so, an archaic village ordinance that most Oak Parkers have never heard of before conveniently becomes the single most important ethical issue of our time.

Mike from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2013 9:04 AM

Why does everyone want Anan to divest himself of Maya? Its a great restaurant and Oak Parkers love it. Why can't there be another solution?

Fed up  

Posted: April 24th, 2013 5:20 PM

So Anan, now that you are going to be taking over as village president, what new measures are you going to take to address this violent crime problem we have in the village? Old ladies getting held at gun point at the grocery store lot, kids growing up with thugs robbing them at gun point etc... Is this suppose to be the desirable life style we bought into when we moved here with it's high taxes? What are YOU going to do, Anan?

Tired of Taxes from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2013 1:48 PM

If the State Attorney General can be the daughter of the Speaker of the House (and his law firm can be a big player in real estate tax appeals), then it seems a small item to let the new Village President delegate another board member to sit in his place on the Liquor Commission.

Cheers from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 10:45 PM

Get over it already. Oak Park is not the 19th Century Puritan hamlet it once was. Our outdated liquor laws should go out the door with the VMA.


Posted: April 23rd, 2013 10:19 PM

Lets all have a drink!

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 9:33 PM

Didnt David Pope have an indirect relationship with the owner of the wine shop at Marion and South Blvd,. in regards to the awning over the public sidewalk? This is the only business to be granted a permit for such a business use of a public sidewalk.I thought Pope knew the owners.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 4:56 PM

So as the law/ordinance currently stands, an elected official, including school board members, library board members, township board members, can't own a business in town that has a liquor license? If that's true, I think the ordinance/law should be looked at since that is kind of discriminatory, isn't it? If there is any conflict of interest in a specific matter, an elected official can recuse themselves in that specific matter. I'm not understanding what the big deal is, frankly.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 4:43 PM

While Anan did state that he would be willing to divest himself of Maya Del Sol, he also stated (at the WJ forum on March 13th, and reported in WJ articles) that he felt this law of 1934 was an archaic law that was put for a purpose that no longer serves the purpose of 2013. He said, "I think it's time for it to go away." He didn't "go back on his promise." It should not come as a surprise to anyone that he is looking to change this law.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 4:22 PM

Marilyn - I think you jumped too fast on this one. II doubt that Anan was involved in the decision. There were a lot of people in Oak Park including board members that agreed that it was unfair to not allow Anan to serve over a law that goes back to the bootleggers, and is easily corrected by having another elected official in the the village serve as Chair on the Liquor Commission. Better to delay any condemnations until he takes the oath.

Steve Bankes from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 4:07 PM

Marilyn, you might be overstating what just happened. "Now, in his first official action, he's going back on his promise to divest himself of his business by enlisting the help of the Democratic Machine." First, he isn't the village president and has not taken "official action." Secondly, he hasn't gone back on his promise to divest the business. Lastly, what exactly is "enlisting the help of the Democratic machine"? Don Harmon's recognized that 58% of voters wanted Anan. He also recognized that giving up a business you've worked hard to build is a terrible cost when all the guys wants to do is serve you and me. I see this as healing.

Marilyn Pelz from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 2:21 PM

I am very distraught. I voted for Anan, after decades of living in OP, because I thought he meant what he said and he said what he meant. Now, in his first official action, he's going back on his promise to divest himself of his business by enlisting the help of the Democratic Machine. I have never regretted voting for a candidate so quickly after an election, before he was sworn in! I did not support Hedges because of VMA special interests. Now, here are new special interests. Heartbroken.

Amend the Ordinance  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 2:18 PM

Any elected public official, Oak Park Village employee, or member of the Oak Park Liquor Control Review Board, shall not be interested in any way, either directly or indirectly in any business holding an Oak Park liquor license. Indirect interests shall include, but not be limited to, any business relationship or contractual relationship with any Oak Park liquor license holder or Oak Park liquor license applicant. (Village Code, Ordinance 3-4-2)

Amend the Ordinance  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 2:17 PM

Establishments Included in the List of Local Liquor Licenses (Village Code, Ordinance 3-8-2): Oak Park Public Library, Park District of Oak Park, Downtown Oak Park, Avenue Business Association, Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, and nearly every church and nonprofit organization in Oak Park.

Chris Carrier  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 2:11 PM

Not sure how I feel about this, issue. However, what if 60% of people wanted a non-resident? I think if, outside of this election, people were asked how they felt about this law, it would be overwhelmingly approved of...

OP Transplant  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 1:54 PM

To "Really?" - Since your preferred candidate lost, let me offer a couple of other arguments. 1) The elderly Florida voters were confused by the ballots. 2) The clear winner of the election is actually a Muslim born in Kenya. Whatever you do, keep fighting the last battle you've already lost. That's the key to progress!

Really? from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 1:40 PM

Did Sen. Harmon say a law is a law until it affects someone popular? 10.7% of Oak Park spoke clearly and that should be enough to strike down a State Statue. Please hurry, don't think about it, no deliberation is necessary when someone popular is waiting. In order to get a Liquor License Anan had to get Blago's pardon, now in order to be President the entire state legislature needs to rewrite the law. Now thats a WIn-Win for everybody!

Steve Bankes from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 1:38 PM

If changing an arbitrary prohibition era number allows a guy to keep his business that he's worked so hard to build so he can serve the community he loves, I'm on board with that. I know he would keep his promise to sell Maya. But that seems like big price to make him pay if there is a simple alternative solution that serves everyone in Oak Park equally.

A voter from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 1:31 PM

Whether or not Anan has a "mandate" is a discussion we can have. But to say he doesn't have a mandate because only 20% of the electorate voted is questionable. 80% of Oak Park's voters didn't care enough about anything to vote. If they are surprised that John Hedges didn't win, they can only blame themselves. By the way, I voted for Hedges.

David from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 1:21 PM

It's my understanding that the ethics ordinance applies not just to the elected president, trustees and clerk, but also to any employee of the village. If you hold a liquor license your are precluded from working for the village or being an elected official of the village and vice versa. In my opinion, Mr. Abu-Taleb said he would divest himself of his Maya interest and he should do what he said he would. Many voted for him based on his promises. He must have had a plan when he made that promise.

Mary Darnall from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 1:00 PM

I wish President-elect Anan all the best in his new role in our Village. However, let's be clear. He won less than 60% of the vote of only the 20% of Oak Parkers who bothered to vote. That is not "a mandate" nor "the will of the local people." It is a civics lesson. There were many people who did not vote who woke up Wednesday after the election in utter disbelief that John Hedges did not win. But, Anan won and I will support him as every voter should.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 12:50 PM

So the state law is being addressed, and now the Village ordinance needs to be addressed. Is that correct? And it's the Village ordinance which prohibits not just the village president but ANY elected official from owning a business in town that has a liquor license. When the ordinance says "any elected official" does that mean any elected official (school boards, library board, township board, etc.) or just the Village President, Board and Village Clerk?

Steve Bankes from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 23rd, 2013 12:03 PM

Thank you Sen. Harmon for recognizing that the will of the people should triumph over an arbitrary population number.

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