Mayor Calderone and few Forest Park commissioners believe the Open Meetings Act hinders the efficiency of the Forest Park government. To deal with this, Calderone has been pushing legislation through the state’s legislative bodies to modify provisions in the act.
The amendment, to the Open Meetings Act, now in the Illinois House of Representatives, would allow two commissioners to communicate privately on village matters, without it being considered a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
“Two commissioners can’t even meet to talk about the simplest things like a holding a parade,” said Tim Gillian, Forest Park commissioner. “If they do, they’ll be violating the Open Meetings Act.”
With Senate Bill 1296, being pushed by the Forest Park lobby, commissioners would be able to communicate with greater ease, that is, if the heated debate surrounding the bill settles.
The bill is an amendment to the Open Meetings Act, which prohibits “any gathering of a majority of a quorum of the members of a public body held for the purpose of discussing public business.”
Under the modified Open Meetings Act, an exception will be made for a municipality with a commission form of government consisting of four commissioners and a mayor, like the one in Forest Park.
In these cases, the act will prohibit any gathering of a majority”rather than a majority of a quorum”of the members held for the purpose of discussing public business.
Simply put, in the case of Forest Park, two commissioners will be able to meet and discuss administrative issues in private.
“You shouldn’t have a paralyzed government,” said Mark Hosty, Forest Park commissioner. “You learn by talking to each other. You could [be spending] so much time inventing the wheel when in fact, someone else already did.”
While Commissioners Gillian, Hosty and Mayor Calderone support the amendment, Commissioners Patrick Doolin and Terry Steinbach said the amendment obscures the transparency of local governments.
“I would stand opposed to the bill, I see no wisdom to make it easier for elected officials to conduct business behind closed doors,” said Doolin.
Commissioners Hosty and Gillian both agreed that the transparency of the government is necessary but added that under the current regulations, there is no efficient way to deal with issues that require prompt attention.
“For instance, suppose that a big storm is coming to the village and trees are going to be blown down,” said Gillian. “We need to talk about these things pretty fast … we are allowed to write e-mails but that’s just not very practical.”
However, Steinbach said there are measures already in place to facilitate communication between the commissioners.
“Calderone’s previous administration inserted an additional layer of village administrators,” she said. “They work as a liaison between all the elected officials … in the case of a true emergency, there is a mechanism [in place] to allow [commissioners] to meet and talk.”
She added further that she was unsatisfied with the lack of notification on the mayor’s part regarding the formation and the lobbying of the bill.
“My concerns weren’t reflected when, in fact, village money was used to push forward this bill,” he said. “I don’t think it was appropriate … whenever a lobbyist is involved, his payment [comes] through village tax dollars.”
In fact, Jack Kubik, a former newspaper owner, has been hired by the village to lobby for the bill.
Calderone said that the content of the bill should not be a matter of debate, but is rather a logical correction to a flaw in the law.
“The law specifically says that in a commissioner form of government, each elected official shall possess and exercise the executive administrative and legislative authority granted onto the commissioners,” he said. “In all other forms of government, the elected officials shall only possess and exercise legislative authority … so one law tells me what I should do but Open Meetings Act handcuffs me from doing that.”
The bill is currently sitting in the Government Administration Committee.
Scott Sievers, an attorney for the Illinois Press Association (IPA), said he does not agree with the bill, as it promotes secrecy and does not adequately reflect the interest of the public.
Calderone, however, said an additional “compromise language” will be added to the bill in the near future in an attempt to win the support of IPA and said he was confident he would garner their support.
For her part, Steinbach said the bill is connected to the incident in January 2004 when Calderone and Commissioners Gillian and Hosty were accused of discussing village affairs at a restaurant with then village administrator Matt O’Shea.
Calderone denied Steinbach’s claims, saying they are false as there is absolutely no link between the incident and the formation of this bill.
He said that the bill will affect roughly 30 communities in the state of Illinois.
“I believe that we should maintain an open form of government … but what I want to do is perform my function as a mayor according to the law,” he said.
The bill is supported by State Senators Kimberly Lightford (D-4th) and Don Harmon (D-39th).
Lightford said she supports the bill because the original writers of the bill did not envision the smaller commissioner form of government, adding that it is about time provisions were made for them to help make governance easier.
Harmon, chief sponsor of the bill, said even though he does not work directly within a commissioner form of government, he strongly believes in the amendment. In addition, he said his strong rapport with the IPA will play an essential role in winning their support.