Letter: Fourth Ward Resident Tells Aldermen Not to Betray Public Trust a Second Time
City of Elmhurst was deemed in violation of the Open Meetings Act. The city must release the records of those meetings because it has "an overarching ethical duty to the public."
Dear Acting Elmhurst Mayor and Aldermen:
As you know, the Public Access Bureau of the Illinois Attorney General’s office has recently determined that the City of Elmhurst was in violation of the Open Meetings Act during closed session meetings on Sept 10 and Sept 17, 2012. The improper discussions evidently involved the Addison Street development project, now under active consideration by the Zoning Commission.
The City has responded to the notice of violation by asserting that it was “advised that the topics discussed were proper under the exemptions to the Open Meetings Act.” Based on the opinion of the Attorney General’s office, it seems that the City was poorly advised. Furthermore, despite City protestations to the contrary, the determination that the City has acted in violation of state statute stands as the conclusion of a properly conducted legal process.
A clear remedy to the violation is given in the opinion: “The City Council is directed to immediately release the portions of the closed session minutes and the closed session verbatim recordings relating to the discussions in question to the public.”
Release of the minutes alone, as seems to be under consideration by the City based on the published agenda for the Council meeting on March 4, 2013, will be insufficient to remedy the violation. The public will not be able to gain a full understanding of the discussions that occurred without release of the verbatim audio recordings in addition to the written minutes, both without redaction as to the discussions in question.
As emphasized repeatedly by the City, the issued opinion is advisory and non-binding. Thus, the City cannot be legally compelled to comply with the recommended remedy should it choose to defy the direction. The question is whether the City respects the system sufficiently to follow voluntarily the directive it has been given. Failure to perform will send the clear and enduring message that protection of private interests is of greater value to the City than service of the public good.
The City has already betrayed the public trust by holding improper discussions in closed session. Refusal to release both the minutes and the complete audiotapes of those discussions would be a further betrayal of the public trust. I call upon the City to comply with the direction stated in the opinion by immediately releasing to the public full, unabridged versions of the minutes and the audiotapes of the discussions in question. The City should act to remedy this matter in full not because of an enforceable legal requirement that it do so but because of an overarching ethical duty to the public.
—Tamara Brenner, 4th ward resident