First reported 6/29/2010 12:52 p.m.
Alley lighting, public comment at council meetings, and public officials’ access to one another’s e-mail were the highlights of the village council meeting Monday night.
One public commenter, Bernice Kale, president of the Belvidere Condo Association, made a case for putting a light on the power pole in the complex’s alley. She said residents had witnessed vandalism to cars and incidents of children being chased by intruders.
The second commenter, Amber Ladeira, a resident of Altenheim German Home, had spoken at the last council meeting. Ladeira said her remarks two weeks ago were received with “dead silence.” She told Forest Park commissioners Monday night that when she’s spoken in the public comment portion of meetings elsewhere, officials of nearby municipalities have told her on the spot that they’d get back to her with answers.
Mayor Anthony Calderone responded that Forest Park’s procedure is not to allow the public comment portion of the meeting to become “a Q and A.”
“That’s not our protocol,” Calderone said. “We like to encourage every resident to contact any of our department heads during typical business hours. You don’t have to wait,” he added, referring to council meetings. Calderone said that some questions may go unanswered because officials may have to do some research to determine the answers.
“These are public meetings, not public hearings,” Calderone said, noting that law does not require a public comment period, but that Forest Park gives that portion of a meeting a prime spot on the council agenda.
“Prior to my being mayor,” said Calderone, who took that office in 1999, “public comment wasn’t until the end of the meetings. We moved it up and provided three minutes to share your thoughts.
“But,” he said, addressing the commenters, “you place us and the department heads in an awkward position,” referring to questions that require research. “We want to be sure you’re getting a correct answer,” Calderone said. The mayor repeated that public comment had been at the end of meetings, then said: “Of course, we get criticized all the time about ‘transparency’ – that’s the big buzzword today.”
After the meeting, one resident who is a regular at council meetings, had a different recollection of the change in when public comments are heard. Steve Backman, founder of the watchdog group Citizens United in Forest Park, said: “Up to and including Sept. 8, 2003, public comment was last on agenda, which sort of rubbed salt in the wound. Beginning Sept. 22, 2003, it was moved to where it is today. We had been complaining, and we weren’t the only ones.”
In the discussion about placing a light in the Belvidere condo alley, commissioner Rory Hoskins had asked “Would this cost us anything?” No one knew for certain, though Village Administrator Tim Gillian said it would be more than $600.
Hoskins recommended that one of Ladeira’s original questions from the previous meeting – about the “No Dogs” signs in the village-owned green space behind Altenheim – be answered, perhaps in letter form. Gillian said the No Dogs signs were put up by Public Works crews after complaints from multiple citizens. Hoskins suggested more vigorous enforcement of the ordinance about no dogs on public property.
The agenda item that stirred a round of debate within the council was a resolution adopting “Computer and Electronic Communications Usage Procedures.” A motion to deny the resolution, proposed by commissioner Mark Hosty and seconded by commissioner Mike Curry, failed.
Curry, who is a lawyer, argued that access to other officials’ village e-mail would interfere with the privacy of citizens, many of whom, Curry said, contacted him on the condition of anonymity in his capacity as head of public health and safety.
Commissioner Marty Tellalian said, “The facts of this ordinance will come out. I don’t think it’s very transparent. ”
Calderone responded: “What in the world do you mean?”
Hosty said: “A ton of innuendo!”
Tellalian then asked a series of questions: “Will elected officials have access to the e-mail of any other officials without prior written permission of the clerk? Under what circumstances would that be OK?”
He asked whether there was a “master password,” who had it, and said he wanted “to shed light on the process.”
Hosty turned to Calderone: “Do you, mayor, have the master password? I think that is what was being implied.”
Calderone: “I do not – never have.”
A motion to adopt the resolution passed. The new procedure means an official must notify the village clerk in writing that he or she wants to see another official’s e-mail. The village’s IT person would then be asked to produce the desired e-mail from a certain day or from a defined period of time.
At a council meeting this spring, village commissioners and the mayor voted 4-1 to approve a settlement in the long-running lawsuit against the village by former village commissioner – and former mayoral candidate – Theresa “Terry” Steinbach.
In August 2006, Steinbach had filed suit against the village in federal court claiming her village e-mail account had been spied on by village officials.
Terms of the settlement have yet to be disclosed.