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Community Activists Receive 2012 Citizen Initiative Award from Citizen Advocacy Center

Citizen Advocacy Center recognizes local community activists for democratic participation.

ELMHURST – On Wednesday, Dec. 12, the Citizen Advocacy Center will recognize its 2012 Citizen Initiative Award recipients. 

The Citizen Initiative Awards were created by the CAC in 1997 to recognize local community activists who are catalysts for democratic participation and have used civic, legal and community organizing tools to advocate for a self-identified issue of public concern.  

“The individuals honored by the CAC are dynamic in that they have identified an issue of public concern important to them and have taken action to organize community initiatives, to advocate for greater accountability of public bodies, and to make a difference in the communities in which they live," said Terry Pastika, CAC executive director. "Often times these individuals are criticized by government officials as trouble makers, uninformed, 'NIMBYs' and more. The CAC identifies these individuals as inspirational because they embody what it means to live in a participatory democracy, and their dedication to addressing a community issue is strong, even in the face of adversity."

The 2012 Citizen Initiative Award Recipients are:  

John Barsotti, Villa Park:  Mr. Barsotti is being recognized for holding his municipal government accountable for refusing to release public records.  Mr. Barsotti simply wanted to inspect routine public records from his village.  When Villa Park refused his Freedom of Information Act request, he filed a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor. The PAC issued an advisory opinion stating that Mr. Barsotti was entitled to receive the records, but Villa Park did not comply with the Attorney General’s request. Refusing to be deterred, Mr. Barsotti filed a pro se law suit against the village seeking access to the records. Mr. Barsotti navigated the red tape of litigation, drafted legal documents and made courtroom appearances. Last summer, Villa Park agreed to a settlement that involved inspection of the very records he requested a year earlier.

Downers Grove Citizen Group of 63rd and Woodward: This citizen group is being recognized for their outstanding efforts in organizing neighbors to preserve their community’s characteristics. After receiving notice that the Village of Downers Grove was considering a petition to build a convenience store/pharmacy in close proximity to their homes, concerned citizens took action to learn about the proposal.  They identified many concerns that included traffic, public safety, adherence to the town’s comprehensive plan and more. The group participated at every level of the governmental process for six months. They organized their community, circulated a petition with more than 1,300 signatures opposing the plan, packed village meetings to speak out, made requests for information that produced extensive documents about the project, and lobbied the petitioner regarding their concerns. While the details are unknown, the petitioner withdrew the proposal. Many members of this citizen effort remain active in local politics.   

Erik Spande, Winfield:  Mr. Spande is being recognized for his dedication to serving the public interest, even at the expense of being censured by his fellow public officials.  Mr. Spande is a trustee in the Village of Winfield whose Board met in executive session 12 times over 11 months to discuss the disbanding of the Winfield Police Department and the contracting of police services to the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office.  Trustee Spande felt the public had a right to know of the executive session discussions due to their significant public interest and the concern over the lack of public participation in an important community issue.  He made the difficult decision to release 56 pages of notes and documentation on the closed session discussion to the press and the public.  At the board meeting following his public disclosure he ensured scathing rebukes from fellow trustees, was ejected from the meeting, and then censured by a majority of remaining trustees.  Although he earned the ire of his fellow trustees, Mr. Spande received a standing ovation from the audience as he was escorted from the Village Hall by the police chief.    

Michael Hennessy, Wauconda Township: Mr. Hennessy is being recognized for his tenacity in utilizing his right to petition government. Mr. Hennessy has been following township politics for several years.  In anticipation of the 2012 Annual Township meeting, Mr. Hennessy used his right to petition under Illinois law to place an item on the Annual Township Meeting agenda.  He wanted those in attendance to vote on whether to place on the ballot at the next township election a question about whether a portion of the benefits received by Township elected officials should be paid out-of-pocket by the elected officials (the status quo was that the 100% of the elected officials’ costs are paid by the township).  Wauconda Township refused his petition. Undeterred, Mr. Hennessy took advantage of another provision in Illinois law which allows electors to petition for a Special Annual Township Meeting.  Submitting to public pressure, Wauconda Township held a special annual township meeting so that registered voters could decide whether to place the item on the next ballot. While the majority of those who showed up at the special meeting voted against putting the question on the ballot, Mr. Hennessy was empowered by his success to hold the Township Board accountable and continues to monitor Wauconda Township.

Kathy Gilroy, Villa Park:  Ms. Gilroy is being recognized for her indefatigable advocacy efforts.  Ms. Gilroy has monitored nearly every Illinois Gaming Board, Racing Board, and Lottery Control Board meeting since 1996 and often speaks out during public comment about compliance and implementation of state gaming laws.  With the advent of video gaming legislation, Ms. Gilroy has been to government meetings in more than 20 towns to voice her concerns about the impact of gaming on the citizenry. Gilroy’s activism is inspired by her personal experience in her rural hometown community as farmers lost their farms, profits, and personal relationships to gambling addiction. 

The Citizen Advocacy Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, community-based legal organization with a mission to build democracy for the 21st century.  Recognition by CAC is not in any way an endorsement of any individual who is or may become a candidate for public office. Founded in 1994, the Center strengthens the citizenry’s capacities, institutions, and resources for self-governance. For more information about CAC or to make a contribution visit us at www.CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org

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