Oak Park liquor ordinance change passes 6-1


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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Watch a recap of our liveblog coverage here.

It happened — but not without a lengthy discussion of legal jargon, opinions from vocal residents, and a taste of local politics. During a special Oak Park village board meeting Monday, President Anan Abu-Taleb got the votes he needed to move forward as the village's leader.

The board voted 6-1 in favor of amending the village liquor code so that Abu-Taleb, owner of Maya del Sol restaurant, is no longer in conflict with local ordinance. Due to a newly updated state law, the village board was tasked with voting on an ordinance that would bring Oak Park's code in synch with the change approved by the Illinois Legislature.

Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill Sunday that exempts towns with populations less than 55,000 from certain liquor law regulations. Under previous legislation, village presidents in towns of less than 50,000 were exempt from having the village president or mayor serve as the local liquor commissioner. The updated law now extends that to Oak Park.

The issue was tabled at the last board meeting to await the state senate's action and the governor's signature. Quinn signed over the weekend, giving most Oak Park trustees the answer they needed to vote yes for the local ordinance change.

The updated ordinance also provides for delegation of liquor commissioner duties to an attorney with an active license to practice law in the state of Illinois. This was taken up in the second session of the evening when it was determined that Trustee Adam Salzman, a local attorney, would serve as the local liquor commissioner for the remainder of his current term.

Public comment at Monday's meeting consisted of seven Oak Park residents who all spoke in strong support of Abu-Taleb and asked the board to give the new president the ability to govern without unnecessary restriction.

"This man has raised his children in the Oak Park schools system; he's built a successful family-run business here. [No one] has more skin in the game to have the village of Oak Park's interest than this man, Anan," said resident Jim Solnes.

Other residents urged the board to be "expeditious" in its decision, with one resident saying any deferral would be petty and wouldn't amount to substantial change. Resident John Guerin said the board shouldn't put Abu-Taleb in a position where he's trying to lead the village, while "six trustees hold his livelihood in the balance."

Each resident who spoke was greeted with a loud round of applause from the enthusiastic crowd in the packed village hall.

"When I first came to Oak Park, there were a lot of silly laws," said resident Gary Cole, a former village trustee. "Most of those laws have been done away with. There are still some archaic laws on the books that need to be somehow eliminated. … I see no conflict here."

Salzman was the first board member to speak on the matter. His comments focused on logistical questions for acting Village Attorney Simone Boutet. Her legal perspective gave Salzman all he needed to move forward with his vote of support, saying his concerns centered on board cohesiveness, maintaining productive relationships among the board, and staying in compliance with village and state law.

"In my view, any potential outcome that could threaten that civility and our ability to deal with each other in a forthright and trustworthy manner is not acceptable to me. I think we have to be extra vigilant in preventing that kind of outcome," Salzman said. "I believe [the updates] truly avoid any foreseeable conflicts of interest. That's the most important thing to me and that's why I'm comfortable voting for this ordinance."

Trustee Ray Johnson, who also voted in favor of the change, proposed a compromise. He agreed to say yes if the board ran the proposed changes through a citizen advisory commission. Johnson said his decision wasn't based on Abu-Taleb's recent election but because it was the best thing to do for Oak Park.

"We don't make policy changes based on popularity. Policy changes are made because it's the right thing to do. Politics have come into play in this issue to a great extent. I'm not used to that," Johnson said. "I'm putting aside all of these issues to move forward. We move forward but at the same time our citizen commissions are able to do their work … Our citizen commission is part of the process, and I do not want to short-circuit that."

Trustee Colette Lueck, who cast the single dissenting vote, also spoke about the politics of the issue and how it has affected her view. She said she was contacted by a fellow board member and asked for support on this issue, an action she hopes won't happen again.

"Our meetings were conducted at the table, transparent and open — until last month, and that's changed," Lueck said. "The discussion needs to be about the policy, not whose side you're on."

Her concerns weren't about Abu-Taleb owning a restaurant with a liquor license and being the liquor commissioner, she said. Rather, her issue was about the fact that Abu-Taleb didn't come to the board prior to filing for the election to discuss the potential conflict.

"My concern is the process by which this has come before us," she emphasized. It would have been "more respectful and honorable," she said, to come before the board and requested a possible change. "With that request, the board would have had time to do the work we always do, which is the work of the people. …This board did not create this divisive issue."

Lueck said voting for an ordinance that specifically benefits an elected colleague of hers seems like an abuse of her power as a trustee. She said policies are changed to benefit people and not one particular person on the board. Therefore she said she could not support the ordinance.

Outgoing President David Pope offered the final perspective and said if the board did not act tonight, the issue would be dragged through multiple meetings and eventually come back with the same proposal. Because state law requires Oak Park to now make a change in its liquor laws, Pope said the board had no choice but to move ahead.

He spoke about less-than-ideal alternative scenarios if the board couldn't reach a conclusion. This included asking Abu-Taleb to divest his ownership of Maya del Sol or resign as village president.

"If we kick off a process without a certain outcome that ends up being the focus and attention of our community in the course of the next several months, we will have cost our community," Pope said. "It will be represented as there is a split, there is fractionalization, and that a portion of the board is at war with the newly elected village president. I don't think that's healthy. … We're better off moving forward, helping to create certainty."

Although it wasn't unanimous, the board's vote matched what the vocal residents wanted. Following the announcement of the 6-1 vote, the crowd erupted in applause and Abu-Taleb was greeted with handshakes and hugs.

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

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Reader Comments

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Posted: May 8th, 2013 11:05 PM

Congratulations Anan. I believe you will bring this board together. It is not about the board, it is about the people and you have a clear understanding of that. As for Ms. Lueck, I do not believe she will move forward for the good of the people. She seems very bitter.

Paddy boy  

Posted: May 8th, 2013 4:46 PM

I'll drink to that! (But then again ....I'll drink to most anything.)

Brian from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2013 9:39 AM

Good for the Board to amend this out-dated and repressive ordinance. The old requirement was meant to exclude business people from running, and was an archaic remnant of prohibition era thinking, similar to no car sales on Sundays. Congrats.


Posted: May 7th, 2013 4:58 PM

I agree with you Portia--except that the law in question was dumb and needed to be removed anyway. If it's politically convenient at this moment, fine. Otherwise you'd be right.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 4:33 PM

@Portia, An "ethics issue" was not what was voted on last night. The ordinances discussed last night are from the Village liquor code, not any ethics ordinance. Simone Boutet, the Village Attorney, clarified this when Trustee Adam Salzman asked her very specific questions about the two sections of the ordinance that the Board were looking to amend (3-2-2 and section 3-3-1-sub section N). Here is the dialogue, starting at 26:40 http://oak-park.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=313

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 4:33 PM

Portia, when Anan went to the village with his papers to become a candidate for the pres. of the village board the village ok'd his candidacy. That's when the problem started. But, why should he not be allowed to run. The ordinance could have been reviewed, revised or talked to death then. Many old laws get changed from just such reasons as has happened with Anan. Is this not a good thing. To use the law, such as it is, to remove a candidate, speaks more to diminish our personal liberties.

Portia from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 3:50 PM

1984 - the principles in question are those of whether we put the law first or whether some are above the law. We run into trouble when we allow some people to be above the law. We have now decided an ethics issue based on political expedience without community discussion of any kind. What is even worse is that because of theway this was done we cannot now have that discussion without political overtones.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 2:01 PM

@OP Res Since '77, were you at the meeting last night? If not, I suggest watching it (the Special Meeting) as well as the one two weeks ago, at http://www.oak-park.us/boardtv/index.html. The Board has asked for the entire liquor ordinance, all of it, to be reviewed. As far as your "tap dancing" comment, Anan did address the issue during the campaign. Some folks chose to hear only divestment of his business, when in reality, he did say his first desire would be to change the ordinance.

OP Res Since '77 from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 1:42 PM

I agree that this problem wasn't of the Board's making, and Abu-Taleb apparently was tap dancing during the campaign when he promised, if elected, to address his conflict with our ordinance. If this ordinance--or the state statute--is obsolete, we should rescind it, not amend it. Raising the limit concedes that the underlying, conflict-of-interest principle is valid, with which I concur. So, let's attract a few thousand new OP residents, and then we'll have to do this again, and again, and...

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 1:38 PM

I was there but I didn't capture the beauty and significance of the event as spectacularly as David. Thanks for the lasting memory.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 1:04 PM

To David Pierini, the WJ staff photographer, really nice photos. You beautifully captured the essences of these moments. Great job!

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 12:58 PM

@JMB, I agree w/ U that for this particular issue, "the people" were very educated. I just like to be respectful of the fact that I, as a member of "the people" may not always have all the pieces of the puzzle, in order to draw the best conclusion. David Pope's comments, using "If/Then" scenarios, was a fine moment in leadership because it provided all the pieces to that puzzle. There is a much bigger picture at play, with far greater implications, and David was excellent at communicating that.


Posted: May 7th, 2013 12:28 PM

@Portia, Okay, I'll bite....what principle(s) are you referring to?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 11:54 AM

Irrespective of a person in-depth knowledge, I believe that the majority of Oak Parkers were aware of the issues in the election and used a lot of common sense to make a candidate choice. That includes those who did not vote, There is a will of the people and in Oak Park, it is a educated, involved will.

Portia from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 10:20 AM

Thanks Collette. I'm glad that we have at least one trustee who has principles. I wish more did.


Posted: May 7th, 2013 9:26 AM

Ms Lueck made no sense last night and it is obvious that her no vote was based on political pettiness or incompetence. She should go.


Posted: May 7th, 2013 8:47 AM

Trustees Johnson and Lueck's lectures of admonishment regarding their concern about lack public process and protocol is grossly hypocritical in light of their own record of ignoring public process and citizen commissions for the past 10 years. Johnson and Lueck have on numerous occasions made a travesty of our public process, and are in no position to be lecturing anyone on this issue. They both are embarrassments as village board members.


Posted: May 7th, 2013 8:38 AM

Trustee Lueck is truly an embarrassment to our Village, and not simply because of her vote, but because she is just illogical and dishonest. I think it is time to call for her to resign. Ms. Lueck, resign now. You have lost the trust of the voters with your actions.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 3:18 AM

@JMB, I don't know if the vote was (or should be) about the "will of the people." Sometimes "the people" don't have all the facts, or don't hold the big picture in mind. So their will may be ill-informed and/or limited in its view. Having said that, David Pope's stellar leadership last night gave all of us, including a couple of trustees, that big picture, and the big picture implications of suspending the resolution. And he did it while at the same time, honoring those trustees' concerns.

Jane Hedges from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 12:38 AM

Sorry, I know we don't live in Pam park ,but Oak Park! I was too fast with my typing. Congratulations Anan and Margie! Jane

Jane Hedges from Pam Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2013 12:26 AM

Congratulations Anan and Margie, John and I wish only the best for you and Oak Park. Thank you, J. B. M. for lending me your coat. I was freezing up there!


Posted: May 6th, 2013 11:12 PM

Ray Johnson spoke of the personal comments made about him in the course of his tenure on the board. He's right, but it is hard not to comment on Lueck's vote tonight. She said that Anan should have cleared up his problem before running for office, yet she didn't challenge his ballot petitions. She used Anan's license during the campaign to discredit his validity as a candidate, and he still one. Tonight she said the process wasn't followed, and the vote was 6-1. Three strikes and you are out

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 6th, 2013 9:44 PM

The 6-1 vote for the ordinance ends the most interesting six months of OP presidential in a long, long time. The board did what its job is to do. They listened to the will of the people and heard their viewpoint loud and clear. They are to be congratulated. The biggest congratulation has to go to do David Pope. David summarized the pro's and con's of the ordinance, the impact of the vote on the community with professionalism and respect for all parties. To me, a frequent critic of David, it was his finest leadership moment. During the last two weeks as bombs were being thrown around, it was David who stayed cool and laid the groundwork for the new board.

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