In the newspapers, talk shows, and magazine articles alike since Mark Felt’s announcement that he is the infamous ‘Deep Throat’ of Watergate fame, the word paranoia has been used repeatedly to describe the atmosphere inside Nixon’s White House.
Nixon trusted few and routinely felt many people were out to get him. This paranoia became an albatross for Nixon, resulting in his making several bad decisions in managing the growing Watergate crisis and, eventually, forcing him to resign his presidency.
This paranoia has recently found a home at Forest Park’s Village Hall. At the Village Council meeting on Monday, May 9, tempers flared when Commissioner Steinbach complained that the Mayor had gone behind the councils’ back by instructing the villages’ lobbyist to work on an amendment that affects the Open Meetings Act (known as Senate Bill 1296) and that would allow two elected officials in a community with the commission form of government the size of Forest Park’s, to talk about administrative matters without being in violation of that act.
During her discourse, Commissioner Steinbach once again brought up the Al’s Grill issue: early in 2004 she accused Commissioners Mark Hosty and Tim Gillian, Mayor Calderone and then Village Administrator Matt O’Shea of violating the OMA by gathering at Al’s Grill in Oak Park. The four accused have vigorously and consistenly maintained their innocence, with Commissioner Hosty at the May 9, 2005 meeting launching a broadside at Steinbach saying “they (the allegations) haven’t been proven, we’ve had talks with the Illinois Attorney General’s office, they were misquoted by you, in these chambers. We have letters stating this from the Illinois Attorney Generals office.”
In the spirit of transparency of government, I encourage Commissioner Hosty to make those letters public.
Commissioner Tim Gillian continued the paranoia by lashing out in a letter to the editor printed in the REVIEW on May 18. He vented in several different directions. He names a group of people whose only crimes seem to be having opposing viewpoints to his own and near-perfect attendance at Village Council meetings.
He also accuses Steinbach and Doolin themselves of violating the OMA on May 13. He goes on to say that 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 problem is, he is wrong. Several people, with whom I have spoken, all more knowledgeable on these matters than I, are in agreement that the aforementioned meeting was held lawfully and with the required public notice. It would be helpful if Gillian would explain exactly why he believes the meeting was illegal.
At the village council meeting of March 28, 2005 Mayor Calderone summarized several different bills working through the state legislature that would have an affect on Forest Park. This type of open discussion is simply an outstanding idea and should continue to practice in the future.
However, as pointed out in the May 25 issue of the REVIEW by Suzy Ance, Senate Bill 1296 was not one of those discussed by the Mayor. It’s hard to believe that this was an oversight. The Mayor knew that he would receive flak from Commissioners Doolin and Steinbach. If the bill had already passed into law, that’s all his opponents would have been able to do, give flak.
In typical Nixonian fashion he is trying to manage the public reaction to the bill ahead of time rather than use the courage of his convictions to persuade others that this bill has merit and would benefit the village. I happen to think that there is nothing wrong with 1296.
It seems to be a common sense correction to a worthy law, a correction that most Forest Parkers would support. That the mayor thinks he needed to sneak it past us smacks of paranoia.
The paranoia exists on the other side of the political fence as well. The most obvious example is some zealots posting on www.forestpark.com. Their personal distaste for all things Calderone is obvious and has made the website virtually useless for discussing opposing viewpoints in an intelligent fashion.
The mayor used to be a frequent contributor and would clearly answer questions and state his opinions in a fashion that befits his office. But then the questions and wild accusations became more personal and irrelevant and the mayor took his cyber bat and ball and went home. I would encourage the proprietors of the website to extend an olive branch to the Mayor and promise to monitor the site more closely if only he will come back and participate.
What the Mayor and his commissioner allies fail to understand is that three is greater than two. If you have the votes, you are politically immune to opponents, at least until the next election. The trio’s practice of attacking the messengers rather than focusing on the message is counter-productive. I realize that it’s easy for myself and others to say ‘just shrug off the criticism and personal attacks.’ But if you are going to hold public office or multiple offices, hold fundraisers and park illegally in town, you are more than a local elected official, you’re also a politician. And successful politicians learn early on how to deflect public criticism. Ask Mayor Richard Daley for a few pointers.
In the meantime, let’s put to rest this Open Meetings Act controversy, once and for all. In May of 2004 the mayor and all four commissioners received a letter from the office of the Illinois Attorney General offering the their assistance interpreting the OMA. I suggest they take the Attorney General’s office up on the offer.