Simple change to fix liquor law conflict

Opinion: Columns

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David Pope

I would like to offer a perspective on the liquor commissioner question that you raised in your April 24 edition [New prez still faces liquor, ethics issue, News]. In this issue, two foundational values of our society are in tension with one another (democracy vs. the rule of law). While some may see this conflict as irreconcilable, I believe a relatively simple adjustment to our local ordinance can help us move forward. Doing so quickly will allow our new village president and our village trustees to focus their considerable skills, talents, and energies on the many significant opportunities that we all see ahead for Oak Park.

On April 9, Anan Abu-Taleb was elected by the people of Oak Park to become our next village president. Most folks didn't know, or particularly care, that the election outcome would also make him the village's liquor commissioner. Since Anan's restaurant (Maya del Sol) has a liquor license, there's an obvious conflict of interest in having him serve as liquor commissioner while he (or a member of his family) continues to own Maya. Anan agrees with this. He is in favor of a change that is being advanced at the state level that would allow the liquor commissioner to instead be appointed by the other members of the village board.

Our own Oak Park Municipal Code also currently prohibits the village president, or any trustee, from possessing a liquor license. This limitation stems from both our history as a "dry" community (until a few decades ago), and the Illinois state law requirement (dating back to the 1930s) that the village president/mayor automatically be designated as the local liquor commissioner. Oak Park's primary interest in preventing our village president from having a liquor license was to eliminate any possibility of a conflict of interest in light of this state-imposed requirement that the village president also serve as liquor commissioner.

However, with state law now evolving to eliminate this requirement, I can't think of any other compelling reason to prevent a village president from having a liquor license. In turn, it seems that a simple modification to our own local ordinance (with language essentially mirroring the proposed state law) would allow us to provide for the objective and responsible enforcement of our liquor ordinances while enabling Anan, as the voters' choice for village president, to move forward with the other 99.999% of the critical elements of the job that have nothing to do with being the liquor commissioner.

Our current village board is now reviewing the possibility of taking up just such a change. I believe that initiating such an action now will best help our community to move forward and will enable our future board to best serve the interests of all of us.

David Pope has served as village president (and liquor commissioner) since 2005.

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Reader Comments

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John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 10:41 PM

The Anan Liquor License issue reminds me of my election and un-election events some thirty years ago. I ran for school board and won election by a single vote. We partied, I thanked all my supporters, and began to prepare to take my seat. A couple of weeks later I received a call saying that I had not won because an absentee ballot (for me) had been disallowed. Someone had used a check mark instead of an X on a ballot. That was illegal in Michigan. It was an obscure and useless law that had never been applied before my election. Since it was a tie, my opponent and I appeared at the county clerk's office for a drawing. Two ballots were in a hat, one had an X and one was blank. The winner was the person that drew the X. I drew a blank. The law was changed within six months to read that any mark in the election box was acceptable if the voters intent was clear. That did not do me much good. I, my volunteers, and those who had voted for me voters were disenfranchised by a law that should not have been on the books. Every once in a while magazines will run lists of old laws still on the books, like the material to be used in a buggy whip. They are funny and get a chuckle, but are extremely painful to those who expended hours of effort getting elected and are left on the side of the road.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 12:43 PM

Board members tell the public regularly that they are all independent and each member has one vote. Then Monday, rather than voting, they cause chaos by choosing to table. A motion to vote on the ordinance should have taken place because politics superseded common sense. Most galling was Trustee Johnson phoning in to ensure that the vote did not take place, and they hung up for the DTOP Development Proposal discussion.


Posted: May 1st, 2013 11:56 AM

Pope mentioned during Monday's board meeting that there were "a couple board members" who seeked delay until IL approved their legislation. By Johnson's comments, I am assuming he was one of them. Regardless, the board needed only 4 votes on Monday to amend the liquor ordinance, so I am questioning why they did not proceed accordingly.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 1st, 2013 11:33 AM

@dystOPia, as U mentioned on another thread, there were trustees ready to vote "no." 6 trustees were able 2 vote on Monday. 4 votes R needed 2 pass. On the other thread you mention 2 folks who were probably going 2 vote "no." & there was most likely another 1 as well, thus leaving only 3 "yes" votes. Given the logical reasoning 4 passing the amendment, David was probably not prepared 4 the political jockeying. But really didn't have a choice but to table it, since the "yes" votes weren't enough.


Posted: May 1st, 2013 11:15 AM

Simple change? At Monday's board meeting, David Pope spent over 40 minutes confusing this issue towards his goal of tabling an agenda item for amending the liquor license. In usual fashion, he complicated the issue to such a degree that the board became too dazed and confused, despite acting Village Attorney Boudet's attempt to clarify. Rather than lecturing us (again) on Wed., Mr. Pope could have simply allowed a vote last Monday, thus ending this charade. We need action, not lectures.

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