Before the village council entered a closed session meeting on Monday night, Mayor Anthony Calderone led a public scolding of an unnamed commissioner who apparently leaked information discussed at the council’s previous closed meeting in May.
Calderone and other commissioners believe that, after the council was presented with drafts of Village Administrator Michael Sturino’s evaluations and pay recommendations for village employees, someone on the council prematurely discussed the information with the employees.
“I’d like to know what public policy is achieved by prematurely sharing information such as this,” Calderone asked, rhetorically.
Commissioners Mark Hosty and Tim Gillian both felt the answer is “none.”
Hosty said that by receiving the information before formally sitting down with Sturino to discuss their evaluations, animosity is built between Sturino and his subordinates.
Gillian noted that in other situations, a similar leak could have more severe implications.
“What’s to stop [the person who leaked this] from talking about real-estate issues discussed in closed session, which could be much more damaging?” he asked.
Gillian added that he did not understand why it is not illegal for commissioners to publicly discuss matters brought up in closed session meetings.
Commissioner Terry Steinbach was relatively quiet during the discussion, stating that she was out of town for the meeting following which the alleged leak occurred.
Hosty said the information leaked was actually given to the commissioners in a packet marked confidential in the days before the closed session meeting.
Commissioner Patrick Doolin said he had not leaked the information, but defended whoever had.
“There’s a reason there’s no law against [discussing information from closed session meetings]. It violates the spirit of open and transparent government,” he said. “Anything you say in closed session you should be willing to say in the open. It’s not our chance to have a secret meeting.”
Village Attorney Mike Durkin, asked for his legal opinion, said though the law doesn’t prohibit open discussion of items from closed session, the spirit of the law does not provide for such discussion.
“The law allows you to go behind closed doors, and there’s a reason for that,” he said, noting that information from closed session meetings is not accessible through the Freedom of Information Act unless the commissioners vote to make the meeting minutes public, and recordings of closed meetings are reviewed by a judge in closed chambers if there is a dispute regarding what happened during the meeting.
Hosty agreed, noting potential dangers of discussing closed session matters publicly.
“With something like land acquisition, there should be secrecy,” he said. “If we’re looking to purchase new land, the cost of land acquisition could go up [if discussion is made public].”
Calderone raised the example of collective bargaining. “If we let all that information out, how the heck would we have bargained in good faith? If we showed all our cards to bargain unit members what’s the point of even negotiating?”
Calderone stated the debate “is not so much about secrecy but about responsibility,” and once again asked what good was accomplished by leaking the information.
Doolin then publicly “leaked” his own evaluation of Sturino’s employee evaluations.
“I think we can all agree that the process was convoluted, random and voluntary,” he said, calling the assessments “comical.”
“I didn’t discuss the information with anyone, but perhaps someone thought the assessments were unfair and the employees should be aware of that,” he added.
Doolin alleged that the assessments contained arbitrary comments like “he’s a nice guy,” and said the commissioners had to “pull teeth” to get the assessments in writing.
Calderone said he agreed with Doolin, but noted that it was not the first time information had been leaked.
“Maybe there’s an improved way that Mr. Sturino can work on evaluations. Maybe the way we could work on that is for the five of us to discuss that with Mr. Sturino [in closed session],” he said.
Sturino defended his work, stating that he had a “professional reason” for giving the evaluations the way he did. He said that he would have preferred to discuss his evaluations with employees before presenting them to the council.
“They didn’t like how it was done but it was done the way they wanted it done,” he said.
“[Doolin] is free to disagree with me, but there was nothing unprofessional, arbitrary or random. In fact, it was rather pointed, and I suspect that was the root cause of his reaction,” said Sturino.
Following the discussion, the council entered closed session “to set a price for the sale of property owned by the public body and to consider the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employees of the public body.”