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Attorney General's Office: Aldermen Violated Open Meetings Act with Closed Talks About Addison Project

Alderman Paula Pezza brought the complaint to the AG's Office, which says the city must release recordings and closed session minutes involving the Addison Avenue project in order to resolve the violation.

UPDATE: Thursday, Feb. 28

Both 3rd Ward Alderman Michael Bram and 1st Ward Alderman Diane Gutenkauf have gone on record stating that they were against discussing in closed session the items referred in the Attorney General's ruling that the city of Elmhurst violated the Open Meetings Act.

"I am one of the aldermen that contested and challenged this discussion that was held behind closed doors," Bram said. "When the tapes come out it will be clear that I questioned the rationale for discussing some of those items under closed session."

And, Gutenkauf released the following statement via email:

I attended the meetings in question and I am on record speaking out against discussing these important matters behind closed doors. The transcripts, once released, will show just that.

I'm glad to see that the Attorney General made the correct ruling and I hope this leads to a more transparent era for Elmhurst City Government. I look forward to the release of the transcripts so all of Elmhurst can know what some on the City Council wanted to keep hidden.

Original story:

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office has released an opinion that the Elmhurst City Council has violated the Open Meetings Act.

First Ward Alderman Paula Pezza filed the complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Bureau. Pezza's filing claimed that on two occasions last September, the City Council improperly discussed the development and potential expansion of a proposed parking garage on city-owned land.

The subject of Alderman Pezza’s complaint is the Addison Street development, a project that is    

Acting Mayor Scott Levin said at the Feb. 19 City Council meeting that details of the Addison Street development would be made public after Thursday's Zoning Commission meeting.

"Feb. 28 is the Zoning Commission meeting," Levin said. "When it has moved beyond that point, we'll have a complete update on the history of the project and how we got to be where we are today.

Related:

In calling for the closed sessions, the city cited an exemption in the Open Meetings Act that permits discussion of acquisition and disposition of real property in closed session.

The Attorney General's opinion states that after a review of closed session tapes and other documents, Elmhurst City Council improperly discussed topics that fall outside the scope of the Open Meetings Act exemptions. (See attached file)

Under the act, government bodies may only meet in closed session to discuss sensitive matters that are narrow and limited in scope, according to the Citizens Advocacy Center, which assisted Pezza in filing the complaint. One specific exception permits private discussions when "setting a price for the sale or lease of property owned by the public body."  

The Attorney General's opinion states City Council members discussed zoning variations, the possible use of the property (office, retail or parking) and opportunities that various zoning options would provide the city. Additionally, the opinion states that “matters concerning the initial decision by a public body to sell or lease property, and the terms, details and processes for such sale or lease are not topics permitted to be discussed in a closed meeting.” 

On one date in question, “the topic of setting a price for the sale of the property never arose ... ,” the opinion states.  

Pezza said she refused to attend the closed-door meetings for two reasons: The city owns all of the property and there is no acquisition issue, and the Open Meetings Act does not allow for general closed door discussions concerning disposition of property or extensions of redevelopment agreements. 

The Attorney General also noted that several other City Council members expressed concern about discussing the matter in closed session.

Pezza said that prior to her decision not to attend the meetings, she requested the city refrain from holding such discussions in private. 

“I felt it was important for Elmhurst residents to know how their tax dollars were being spent," she said in a prepared statement. "In my opinion, there was no reason for this discussion to be held in private, especially when the council is having ongoing discussions about what to do with another parcel of publicly owned property on Hahn Street. Why was this project different?”

The Attorney General said in order to remedy the violations, the city must immediately disclose the closed session minutes and audio tapes. 

"We look forward to the city’s immediate compliance with the direction of the Attorney General," said Terry Pastika, executive director and community lawyer of the Citizen Advocacy Center, which assisted Pezza with the filing. 

The Public Access Counselor determined that "resolution of this matter does not require the issuance of a binding opinion." 

Pezza's term on the City Council ends this spring. She is not seeking re-election.

This story will be updated.

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Voice of Reason February 28, 2013 at 08:26 PM
imo the city attorney should be fired immediately; and ALL his elmhurst receivables should be impounded until the city can determine whether malpractice was committed. if not, 50,000 a month is a lot to pay for nothing.
Steve L February 28, 2013 at 08:29 PM
Who was in on these illegal meetings? Who are the members that spoke out against them? At least Pezza had the instinct not to attend.
NancyC February 28, 2013 at 08:41 PM
Sounds reasonable to me.
Wash Woman February 28, 2013 at 08:47 PM
Good job Paula. Thank you for watching for us.
Shawn Anderson February 28, 2013 at 08:48 PM
Thanks Paula for bringing this to the forefront. I was hearing information of the same kind before she filed her complaint. This obviously missed the transperancy note. I am a local real estate Broker and was angry initially to hear things were being handled this way. Paula has nothing personally to gain here, glad she is working for us until her last day in council. The Hahn street project was open to one builder who coincidently was offered a substancially lower rent price than any agent in town would have ever listed it for, then he asks for 1st flr parking in that same deck and office space on the 2nd flr from what I hear. Not Transparent!! Someone is getting a deal and not havingto openly bid...hmmm. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong! I guess time will fianlly tell now.
Mark D February 28, 2013 at 08:57 PM
Not too sure if you can blame the City Attorney on this one as he cannot end the closed session once it crosses the line. It seems from the opinion that some aldermen did not respect the concerns of other aldermen who ended up on the right side of the issue. When this happens, it is not unreasonable to wonder what the precedent in closed sessions has been that groomed the group into believing that meeting to discuss these issues outside of an open meeting was appropriate. As pro-development as I am in general, there are projects where this question arose before, including development agreements on Block 300 in 2002, which could have involved completely different discussions and legal ones, but no one will know.
Mark D February 28, 2013 at 09:02 PM
Also, it seems to me that Paula saw an issue through (one that she was criticized on) despite being right. It is a trait that you have to respect and expect in the people running in April. The AG's office is there to assist municipalities as much as it is there to help a complaining resident.
Daniel February 28, 2013 at 09:18 PM
Way to go Paula. This validates the rumors about the "good old boys" club that runs Elmhurst and how the sweetheart deals are made without public knowledge. Also good news for Diane Gutenkauf's mayoral campaign and her focus on the issue of transparency. Too bad that you are leaving the city council. Thanks for your service.
Steve L February 28, 2013 at 09:35 PM
I bet a lot of the council people in on this illegal meeting are up for election right now - Morley? Mulliner? Gutenkauf?
Karen Chadra (Editor) February 28, 2013 at 09:38 PM
This story has been updated with comments from Diane Gutenkauf—right at the top of the article.
Steve L February 28, 2013 at 09:47 PM
Thanks! It looks like I needed to refresh my browser a little faster. Good to hear Diane was against it - can't wait to hear these tapes. Any word from Mulliner or Morley if they were in on the meeting?
Karen Chadra (Editor) February 28, 2013 at 09:54 PM
I don't know. I would not assume they've seen this article yet; I believe Morley is traveling right now. I will update with information as it becomes available.
Jane March 01, 2013 at 05:27 AM
Doesn't the Open Meetings Act also provide that a violation of the act is punishable with fines and/or jail time? Why were no penalties imposed?
not Mike Madigan March 01, 2013 at 02:11 PM
see Diane, you just have to listen to me. if i can get d conroy elected, i can pretty much get any one elected. now you understand why i told that it was not smart politically for you to co-sign the attorney general complaint. that way, if my daughter's transparency outfit couldn't find a technical violation, then its all on paula being the lone gunman. and this way you can stay on the grassy knoll and maintain that whole team player persona we talked about. but of course she did find a violation; it's pretty hard not to the way we wrote that law. you see, we're trying to expand the Madigan Brand to transparency since the whole state solvency thing kinda got sidetracked. anyways ... keep up the good work. but you still gonna need some sort of actual accomplishment. i'l have rudy work on that.
another Lincoln parent March 01, 2013 at 02:29 PM
yeah, this whole thing stinks and it goes back to one person: Pension Pete, and his cook county shysters. And you know what, he will still have the ^#%s to show up for the St. Pats parade and mug and smile like every one loves him. so just keep a couple facts in mind pete: only 38% of the voters even wanted you in the first place, 80% of the people think you shouldn't hold two offices, and finally, every politician in this city is going to treat you like a leper when they see you because if any paparazzi captures a shot of you with a current mayoral candidate, that person is doomed !
Henry March 01, 2013 at 02:54 PM
The art of deal cutting behind closed doors goes back to the Borchert, Marcucci, Kubiesa days. The Toms got all their deals taken care of that way. Pete and his team just followed Toms program when he slid in. Poor kids got caught.
Voice of Reason March 01, 2013 at 03:08 PM
Mark D: this is WHY the city's law firm attends closed session meetings ! and that is the ONLY reason why they attend: its called legal compliance... and a competent municipal attorney attending a "Closed Session" is supposed to know the Open Meetings Act exceptions like the back of his hand. whereas, only one of the current Alderman is an attorney. Yes, they are supposed to receive "training" in open meeting act issues. but seriously, they are volunteers, unpaid volunteers; trying to do their civic duty. again, why are WE paying these guys 50,000 a month; to look like fools ?
TE March 01, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Will be interesting to see which alderman were leading the back room deal? Elmhurst deserves better then this back room crap. Pension Pete appoints family and friends, and makes Elmhurst look like Cicero. Trying to act like Mayor Levin doesn't want to tell the citizens any details till after the deal is done. Amazing the arrogance! Any alderman involved in this back room dealing should resign! Wake up taxpayers of Elmhurst and take back your town.....
Steve L March 01, 2013 at 04:10 PM
When are these tapes coming out? I can all but guarantee Morley is on them pushing to have this meeting behind closed doors. They must have known it was illegal since Gutenkauf and Bram both said so and Pezza didn't even attend. DiCianni and Morley have been caught up in the same racket since Morley joined the council. No wonder Petey appointed him CHAIR of the Development, Planning and Zoning Committee (the Committee notorious for pushing bloated contracts to Pete's developer friends) during his FIRST term on Council. Something is fishy here. Somebody is getting a cut - why else would they try to keep this hidden from us? You know - the peoples whose tax dollars your STEALING.
M Erwin March 01, 2013 at 08:09 PM
Really?? Are you serious?? 20% of the council makes regular "I represent the taxpayers, blah blah, blah.." statements. The other 80% Just Do It !!! You forget these are educated, experienced, successful men and women, moms and dads, in the community. Look around town...you will see them volunteering, attending fundraisers, helping neighbors, coaching their kids. They work hard in and for the community and are real people, not the three-headed monsters you'd like to make them out to be. They stand to gain nothing and aren't making any "buddies" any cash. In the words of one of our mayoral candidates, just "shut up".
Joe O'Malley March 01, 2013 at 08:50 PM
ah the ruling elite rears it's ugly head here in Mayberry....Citizens Arrest! Citizens Arrest!
Henry March 01, 2013 at 10:11 PM
Let's see if they go against the Illinois Law again. If there is nothing to hide, they will play the tapes and release minutes. If they fight it, someone needs to dig further than some little old alderperson can.
Fan of Jim Ryan March 01, 2013 at 10:30 PM
Nothing but politics, and dirty politics wasting tax payer dollars at that. There is a 6 year old development agreement, signed by a previous council, in place right now. The developer wants to add 2 stories and office space. That is public record already. Council was discussing whether to even negotiate with developer to add 2 stories. I'm guessing the tapes will prove that out. Now, the real reason for this hub bub...a month before the mayoral election. Democrat Diane Gutenkauf is thisclose to Democrat Mike Madigan, Czar of Illinois. Czar Mike has Czarina Lisa poke Republican bastion Elmhurst in the eye. Elmhurst, home of Republican Dan Cronin, and rumored candidate for AG once Lisa moves to the Governors mansion, and Lee Daniels, former adversary of Czar Mike. This is an easy play for the King of Politics Czar Mike...I'll bet he had a good laugh about it. Gutenkauf's candidacy is floundering. "Shut UP" and Robocall/poll from HELL has hurt her badly. The original complaint occured in September. AG releases letter in March, a month before the election. Coincidence? Hardly. No wonder all of Gutenkauf's minnions are all over this. Perfectly orchestrated. They hope we forget "SHUT UP" and "Push one if you hate Steve Morley, push 2 if you hate Mark Mulliner"... And, by the way, in the AG's eyes, Gutenkauf is as guilty as anybody at that meeting. Saying you were against the meeting but staying at the meeting is no defense. It's called being an accesory
Jim Court March 02, 2013 at 12:54 AM
Based on the above conversations, please indicate who you support and if possible, why.
Susan Smentek March 02, 2013 at 02:27 AM
1. For those of you who post anonymously, I received the robocall. It also contained "Push 1 if you would be less likely to vote for Diane Gutenkauf". The word "hate" was not, to my memory, used regarding any of the candidates. 2. Why was this project different? Those of us who attended the Zoning Commission public hearing found out that the developer/builder (ARCO Murray National - Addison Corridor LLC or some combination thereof) wants 2 stories of office space so that they can move their own company into said space, take up all of the prime parking near the elevators for the office and retail (leaving the public with fewer spaces than we'd get if they did NOT build the office space) AND, oh, by the way, their OFFICE includes a BASKETBALL COURT. So, just to recap, they bought the land, they sold it to us, we pay them to build retail and their own-includes-basket-ball-court-office and tons of parking for them, then, we pretty much give it to them (after paying them between $500K-$1million dollars in construction management fees) for far below what it's worth. Now, you may seriously start asking, "Seriously???" in regards to the hubris of the parties who stand to benefit.
Jim Court March 02, 2013 at 04:27 PM
Seriously, I think that group think develops and it is far easier and problematic to be seen as like-minded and desiring consensus. Truly independent thought is marginalized and you are perceived negatively. We need all voices on the council to think independently yet not seek conflict or disagreement out of a place of false rebelliousness but rather sincere independence. Many people truly are not constitutionally capable of this. It is not coded in their DNA or personality. This position plays a great demand on people and some do it for the glory, some for the benefits, and the truly great ones do it for what is best for their constituents and the good of the City. These are the poet/statesman/philosophers among us. God bless them. They are heroic.
F C March 02, 2013 at 06:24 PM
Businesses with deep pockets should pay their own way! This whole thing is sickening! http://therearecrooksinillinois.blogspot.com/2008/12/urls.html
Jim Court March 03, 2013 at 02:21 AM
I would "Seriously" vote for you ! You have a very rational and logical thought process.

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