The “Culture Of Secrecy” v. Ald. Schmidt


Just about nine months into his first term in office, 1st Ward Ald. Dave Schmidt has shown himself to be not only a refreshing, independent voice in the Park Ridge City Council but also a true enemy of the “Culture Of Secrecy” that has pervaded the Council for years, and that has taken an even greater hold over it under Mayor Howard Frimark and his Alderpuppets.

For those of you who did not read either of our local newspapers this week and, therefore, did not see Ald. Schmidt’s letter to the editor explaining his actions in disclosing information that lame-duck City Mgr. Tim Schuenke labeled  “confidential” – a classification which doesn’t lawfully exist under the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) – you can read that letter here [pdf].

Fighting “city hall” is never easy, but Schmidt has been an inspiration for those Park Ridge citizens who are tired of closed session meetings, insider deals and the continuing higher cost of a city government that doesn’t seem to be providing better services for the money.  And one of those citizens who has been inspired by Ald. Schmidt is Ruth Major, who recently let the mayor and the aldermen know about it:

From: Ruth Major
To: Schmidt, David F.;;;;;;;
Sent: Tue Feb 05 16:56:00 2008
Subject: The Pending Investigation into PR Police

Dear Mayor Frimark and City Council,

Every week the local paper prints the name of Park Ridge citizens and others who have been issued DUI tickets and arrested and there seems to be little concern about those disclosures.  During the past year many of us have learned, some firsthand, that many of those tickets and arrests may be unwarranted and in violation of the law.  Yet that doesn’t stop the police department from releasing the names and information.

This week our Alderman Schmidt released information about the pending investigation into the police department and certain of our elected officials, and some of our unelected officials, have made an issue out of it.  I am personally at a loss to understand why private citizens have their alleged misconduct publicly aired on a regular basis, but our elected officials, and our other public officials, and our public servants (i.e. police) are somehow entitled to a complete cloak of secrecy when addressing their problems.  Our elected officials and our public servants are here to serve us and should be held to higher standards and greater scrutiny than private citizens.

Alderman Schmidt’s release of the information about the investigation was the first time in the last year that I have had my confidence in our city council at least partially restored.  We have a right to know the scope of the investigation and the details of how the investigation will be handled.  We also have a right to expect that our elected officials will review and address the complaints that have been made by citizens against the police department and police officers.  

This is not a “personnel” issue, this is a civil rights issue, and a criminal issue, and a public safety issue.  Taking innocent people into custody and accusing them of lying, pointing loaded guns at the heads of our children, and beating up kids and taking their money is a matter we all have to be concerned about.  The people who have engaged in this activity, or aided and abetted this activity, or who have looked the other way when they were responsible for stopping this activity, need to be held accountable (and not rewarded with severance packages). 

There are a lot of people in this town who are fed up with the secret meetings that are taking place with our city council.  There are many people who appreciate the honesty of Alderman Schmidt and I sincerely hope that others on the city council will support him and will support transparency in our government.

Thank you,
Ruth I. Major

But despite an outpouring of praise like this from his constituents, Ald. Schmidt is finding out that no good deed goes unpunished.  At this past Tuesday’s Procedures & Regulations Committee meeting, non-committee member Ald. Rich DiPietro showed up for no other apparent reason than to criticize Schmidt’s disclosures and claim that they harmed the closed session process that (get this) “protects” the citizens of Park Ridge.  DiPietro also suggested that Schmidt, a P&R Committee member, should be censured for his actions.

As we’ve reported here before, DiPietro is very comfortable operating in the shadows – where he can do his business without risking his carefully-cultivated image as the unofficial nonno (grandfather) of the Second Ward.  But make no mistake about it: DiPietro is a calculating politician who knows exactly what he wants and how to get it.  And one way to do that is to make sure the average Park Ridge citizen is kept in the dark, which Richie D might prefer to call “protected from the truth.”

Which leads us to believe that the rumor about certain Council members looking to publicly admonish Ald. Schmidt at this Monday’s City Council meeting may very well be true – even though the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) permits everything that Schmidt is accused of doing: Back in 1991, the Illinois Attorney General issued an opinion letter [pdf] in which he stated that a public official like Schmidt cannot be sanctioned for revealing what occurred in closed session because such a sanction would provide “a shield behind which opponents of open government could hide.”

Unfortunately, we’ve got a mayor, a lame-duck city manager and a majority of aldermen who all seem to despise “open government” and who hide from their constituents in closed sessions at the drop of a hat.  And we’ve also got a city attorney who knows that his continued employment depends on keeping those hide-and-seekers happy.  For them, Ald. Schmidt is their worst nightmare: A guy with a flashlight.

If you believe that we need the kind of open government that Ald. Schmidt is trying to get for us, come out to Monday night’s City Council meeting and tell the Council that you support Ald. Schmidt.  Tell them that you’re sick and tired of their Culture of Secrecy.  And let them know that, as Ald. Schmidt said in his letter, “[t]he public will be watching” from here on out.