A Bad Game Of Hide And Seek


If you checked out the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) section of the Illinois Attorney General’s website via the link we furnished in our last discussion (“Want To Learn About The Illinois Open Meetings Act? Feb. 15), you now probably know more about IOMA than most of our elected city officials. 

That’s less because IOMA is that difficult to understand, and more because those elected officials don’t seem interested in knowing anything more than whether lame-duck City Mgr. Tim Schuenke puts “closed session” on the agenda; and whether city attorney Buzz Hill says it’s okay.

As stated at Page 20 of the Attorney General’s guide to IOMA: “The exceptions authorize but do not require the closing of a meeting falling within their scopes. 5 ILCS 120/2(b), 2a.” [Emphasis added]  Which means our public officials – not only our aldermen, but also the members of the Park Board and our School Boards – go into closed session because the want to, not because they need to.

We realize there are some issues where confidentiality concerns may rival the public’s right to know.  Negotiating strategies for labor contracts and litigation strategy for dealing with pending lawsuits come readily to mind as two matters where premature public disclosure of information discussed by the Council could put the city – and, therefore, its taxpayers – at a significant disadvantage.  But even in those situations, secrecy is such a worrisome slippery slope that the state legislature still does not consider it so essential that closed session is required – it is only permitted

It should be noted that many of the situations where the Council runs into closed session are ripe for abuse of that process and, consequently, of the taxpayer.  Things like land acquisition, the hiring of consultants to perform a police department audit, or matters related to real estate development are ideal candidates for insider dealing and profiteering, a fact recently pointed out by Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass in discussing the “buffers” – well-connected friends, flunkies and political allies – who surround Mayor Daley and insulate him from direct contact with the shady dealings that occur in Chicago (“Laski’s book casts Daley as an emperor in the buff,” Feb. 15, 2008):

They roll in money, they’re included in multimillion-dollar zoning deals, they’re paid off as consultants on bus shelter contracts, or through real estate developments.

When you share a border with one of the most corrupt big cities in America and are entirely within the borders of one of the most corrupt counties, you’re kidding yourself if you think nothing corrupt could be going on here in Park Ridge, even if on a much smaller scale.

Which causes us to wonder about things like the City Council running into closed session to discuss the hiring of a law firm to audit the police department [pdf], especially when it appears that the audit is somehow tied to a possible buy-out of Police Chief Jeff Caudill’s contract.  And about making an offer to buy private land for a police station when that offer is hundreds of thousands of dollars above the city’s appraised value of that land, and the offer is made even before the city has firmly decided on how big a station it can afford and what is the best location for it.

That’s why we propose that, from here on out, before any alderman votes to hide from the public in closed session, he should publicly answer the following question: “In what specific ways will the city be harmed if the public gets to hear this particular discussion in open session?”

We don’t expect Mayor Frimark’s alderpuppets – DiPietro (2nd), Bach (3rd), Allegretti (4th), Ryan (5th) and Carey (6th) – to answer this question, or even ask it of Schuenke or Hill.  But maybe the two aldermen who have shown themselves to be accountable to their constituents, 1st Ward Ald. Dave Schmidt and 7th Ward Ald. Frank Wsol, will at least ask it. 

Because we’d love to hear some of the answers.