SB 1296 amends municipal code”not the Open Meetings Act
Last week, the REVIEW printed a letter from Forest Park Commissioner Theresa Steinbach regarding a bill that Senator Kimberly Lightford and I are sponsoring in the current session of the General Assembly.
I write to clear up some misconceptions in Commissioner Steinbach’s letter.
Senate Bill 1296 proposes to fix a problem with the commission form of government employed by 52 municipalities across Illinois. Under current law, there is an inherent conflict between the commission form of government and the Open Meetings Act.
In the commission form of government, unlike any other form of municipal government, each of the five commissioners is vested with both executive and administrative duties and legislative duties. As part of their executive duties, the commissioners are effectively directed by the Illinois Municipal Code to interact with each other while performing administrative tasks.
At the same time, the Open Meetings Act prohibits the majority of a quorum of a legislative body from discussing public business outside of a public meeting. The intent of this prohibition is to prevent a majority of a legislative body from agreeing before a meeting how to vote on a pending legislative matter.
An unintended consequence of this prohibition affects five-member commission forms of government”two commissioners (the majority of a three-commissioner quorum) cannot discuss any public business outside of a public meeting”not even emergency matters or mundane administrative business (for example, the Commissioner of Streets and Public Improvements couldn’t talk to the Commissioner of Public Health and Safety about a water main break).
The irony is that the Open Meetings Act does permit two trustees in any other form of municipal government”all of which have seven or more members”to meet privately to discuss even pending legislative matters.
So, how do we correct the inherent conflict? Senate Bill 1296 proposes a simple, common-sense solution. It would preserve the protections of the Open Meetings Act with respect to legislative business pending before the full board, while acknowledging the public is better served by permitting two commissioners to talk about administrative matters that will never come before the board for a vote.
The Illinois Press Association is rightfully the staunchest defender of the Open Meetings Act and correctly insists on transparency in government. I agree. I have supported the Press Association in these matters and I have worked with the Press Association on important legislation.
Even the Illinois Press Association, however, acknowledges this inherent conflict between the commission form of government and the Open Meetings Act. My colleagues in the Senate and I worked very hard to negotiate an amendment to the Municipal Code”not the Open Meetings Act”that would cure this conflict once and for all and still be acceptable to the Illinois Press Association.
Senate Bill 1296, as we have agreed to amend it, will benefit 52 communities throughout the State of Illinois, including Forest Park, while maintaining transparency in government.
Senate Bill 1296 is an initiative of the West Central Municipal Conference, which represents all of the Cook County suburbs in my district and in Senator Lightford’s district. Senator Lightford and I filed this bill on February 18, 2005 and were joined by several senate colleagues as co-sponsors. Senate Bill 1296 recently passed the Senate nearly unanimously.
Until Commissioner Steinbach’s letter, I was unaware of any commissioner in any municipality in Illinois who had any concern regarding this bill.
Moreover, I would have been pleased to speak with Commissioner Steinbach regarding her concerns on this bill. She did not, however, choose to contact me; had she done so, she certainly would have been included in the negotiation of the final amendment.
I hope that, when she sees the amendment, she will find that her concerns have already been addressed. In the meantime, I am disappointed that our conversation had to begin in the form of dueling letters in the local papers.
Hearing these objections, I am more than happy to hold the bill so that we can have further discussions over the summer to make certain the residents of Forest Park understand the significant benefits of this bill. I will continue to serve as an advocate for open, honest, and transparent government. Citizens should demand no less of their representatives.
Senator Don Harmon
Gillian clarifies intent of SB 1296
On Monday, May 9, at the regularly scheduled council meeting, those in attendance were witness to a debate that centered on pending legislation regarding the Open Meetings Act. The amendment would change the law so that two commissioners could meet and discuss non-legislative issues such as personnel and administration. Commissioner Steinbach was shocked that the mayor and our lobbyist, Jack Kubik, would try and change a flaw in an otherwise good law. She talked about the need for good and open government, insinuating that the mayor, Commissioner Hosty and I were opposed to good ethical government. She argued that there was absolutely no reason to change the law because it had worked just fine in the past. This newspaper failed to print many of the rebuttal comments made against Commissioner Steinbach’s flawed logic and instead left the reader with the notion that the only people interested in good government were Commissioners Steinbach and Doolin and their ardent supporters, who are present at every meeting.
On Friday May 13, 2005, Commissioners Steinbach and Doolin held an illegal meeting at the village hall. This meeting was held to interview a candidate for a public works job, a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act. The REVIEW would have been at the meeting if they had not confused a.m. with p.m. Why are the editors of this paper not outraged at the hypocrisy of this event? Why are the Backman, McDermott, Wozniak, and Minngahan of this village not sending e-mails to anyone who will read them, describing this violation of the Open Meetings Act.
The interview process was an example given at Monday’s meeting of one reason to change this law and Steinbach argued that it was not valid. Four days later, she violated the law. Commissioner Steinbach called the President of the Illinois Press Association on Tuesday May 10, and led him to believe that our lobbyist had misled him on the reasons for the change in the law”he subsequently withdrew his organization’s support for the amendment. I have known Jack Kubik for many years and I am confident that Jack argued the merits of the amendment and nothing else. Based on her performance Monday night, and subsequent violation on Friday, I have NO confidence that the IPA was given the facts by Commissioner Steinbach.
I believe that Steinbach owes the public an apology for grandstanding at a council meeting when she knew that she would be violating the law she was arguing for just a few days later. I also feel that this paper should work harder at presenting both sides of an argument so that the reader, not in attendance, gets the most accurate view of the debate.
On another subject: Two weeks ago Steven Backman wrote a letter to this paper regarding some paving work recently completed at Madison Commons. I was upset, but not surprised, that the REVIEW did not offer me an opportunity to comment on the letter. This letter left the reader with the idea that my support of the project was somehow linked to my former company getting that paving work.
Here are the facts:
1. Abbey paving is one of the largest midsize paving companies in the Chicago metro area.
2. Taxman and Focus are successful developers with an excellent track record.
3. Abbey has worked with Taxman on many projects in many towns and will probably continue.
4. I retired from Abbey in 2000, and have no contact with the business portion.
5. If Taxman wants the best job possible, at the best price, they have every right to choose Abbey, a company that I helped build and of which I am proud.
Backman, in an effort to help you with your research, I will tell you that when I sent my family members involved with Abbey your letter, they were not surprised because they are aware of your antics. They did advise that they are bidding on Abel Howe with Taxman and I hope they are successful.
In closing, please be assured that I am committed to good government and to continued growth for this great village. Please call my office at 366-2323 ext. 600 with any comments or questions
Tim Gillian, Commissioner
I have a dream, too
When I was just a girl I used to wish I had a Chatty Cathy doll.
As a teenager, like most teenaged girls, I wished for my own phone.
In my 20s it was a Mazda RX7; in my 30s it was to go on a lavish dream vacation.
Now, at the top of my wish list is finding a way to buy and keep the Roos for the community members of Forest Park.
Today I started to dream about what I could do to make this happen. I wondered whether or not the other 952 petition signing residents would be willing to donate the cost of their dream vacation if it meant the Roos could be used as park land, or for some other community use.
I wondered how many people would sacrifice that vacation if it meant being part of something so significant it would be life changing … if their contribution would go down in history as quite possibly the single greatest town-wide effort since the people of Bedford Falls rallied to raise money to save the old Bailey Building & Loan.
In my dream, I put up $5,000, and all my friends each donated $5,000 (or whatever amount they could afford), and then the phone started ringing with all kinds of residents making donations to the cause. Soon, the local businesses joined the “Save The Roos” movement, and the news trucks showed up. Then, Oprah called.
It was at this point in the day that my office phone buzzed”time to get back to work. But I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not”collectively”we really could make that big a difference … if we could really make this happen.
Anyone out there want to try to turn this dream into reality?
Citizens United in Forest Park
It has now been an entire year that Citizens United in Forest Park (CUinFP) has been working to make Forest Park a better place to live.
We believe that this is an important milestone and our May meeting will officially mark our first anniversary with elections and the unveiling of our new web site. Please come on Thursday, May 26th at 7:00 PM to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 500 Hannah (the corner of Hannah and Adams).
All are welcome to bring ideas about items and issues that CUinFP should tackle over the next year.
If you have any questions about accessabilty or anthing else, call 771-2478 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope to see you there and bring a friend!
A letter in regards to the Steven Backman Letters
I am writing in response to the letters of Steven Backman. I really like the improvements done to our town. Madison Street looks unbelievable. It reminds me of being downtown when I am passing the bars and passing the new town homes being built.
I cannot wait to see what Forest Park will be like in another 3-5 years.
Steve Backman has done nothing to help this community at all in his saying. Some people look at the bad in everything and some of us look at the good in everything. I bet Steve Backman is one of those guys who always look at the glass as half empty.
We need to applaud our village officials who have made these major improvements in town. That is why they were elected. To take leadership and see the vision of our town down the road. I am sick and tired of people bashing village officials.
I am even sick of some village officials bashing each other. The only way you can get anything done right is in unity.
If you do not agree with things being done, wait patiently for the outcome. If you can’t do that, then make a difference in doing something to build this town rather than destroy it.