When it comes to trying to shut down the Forest Park Tap Room, the problematic bar at Madison and Circle, Forest Park keeps trying and losing.
It has suspended the bar’s license multiple times but relented. It revoked the bar’s license, but that was overturned by the state’s Liquor Control Board. The current gambit is to not renew the bar’s liquor license.
Hearings by Forest Park’s liquor commissioner (aka, Mayor Rory Hoskins) have been delayed twice but were finally scheduled to begin last week. That hearing was delayed by an hour as attorneys for the village and the bar had some final conversations.
And that’s when things got really strange and troubling. Somewhat more than 90 minutes into the hearing, a break was called. The court reporter hired by the village to create a transcript of the proceedings then launched into a complaint that the reporter from the Forest Park Review was audio recording the meeting on his phone. Of course he was recording the meeting. That’s what reporters do these days. Makes for more accurate quotes and an ability to go back and check things against notes.
As we looked at Forest Park’s statutes and then had our lawyer, the general counsel for the Illinois Press Association, look at the same statutes, it was clear. There is absolutely nothing in Forest Park law that prohibits recording public meetings.
This led to a ridiculous and offensive brouhaha in which attorneys for the Tap Room, always looking for a cudgel to beat up the village, made the silly claim that this entirely legal recording by our reporter should result in a “mistrial.”
And more ridiculous and troubling? The mayor and Village Attorney Sharon O’Shea piled on our reporter, demanded that he delete the audio file on his phone, demanded he be sworn in to testify he had not saved the file to the cloud and that he leave his phone with the police chief when he used the facilities. The reporter was told he and the Review would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law if the file was not deleted.
That is a lot of misguided intimidation of the free press when the village did not have a legal leg to stand on. Multiple people in leadership at village hall ought to do some soul-searching and consider an apology.
In a statement to the Review on Monday afternoon, Mayor Hoskins wrote that the court reporter raised a concern about our reporter’s physical proximity to the defendants and their attorneys.
That is not what was expressed to our reporter in real time. It was a concern expressed by Tap Room attorneys. And we’ll never know if the reporter’s recording picked up “privileged” communications as the recording was deleted.
In any case, the hour-plus of the hearing was “abandoned” and has been rescheduled for later in the month. The Review will be back. Our reporter will be recording the proceedings. And if anyone is concerned about seating arrangements, then move the chairs away from the defendants’ table.
The entire debacle makes it seem as if Tap Room has the village spooked. This hour of overreaction and casting blame on the local paper for reporting the news was not village government’s finest hour.