Park Board Approves Unseen Contract “The Mountcastle Way”


Would you sign a multi-million dollar contract to employ a number of people for several years without reading it closely and carefully?

Neither would we.

But that appears to be what four of our elected Park Ridge Park District commissioners – Board president Mel Thillens and commissioners Joan Bende, Richard Brandt and Mary Wynn Ryan – did at a “special meeting” on June 26th that mysteriously started at 5:30 p.m. rather than the Park District’s customary 7:30 kick-off for Board meetings.

That odd kick-off time, alone, should have raised a question about what was going on. Another attention grabber should have been the Agenda, which consisted primarily of 4 innocuous-sounding amendments to the District’s personnel and administrative policies that didn’t seem to implicate any sense of urgency worthy of a “special” meeting.  Until Item 7, which should have been the red flag.

“Closed Session.”

Those two words on a local government meeting agenda should be viewed by every taxpayer as interchangeable with “WARNING!” and “DANGER!”

If you’re looking for something kinky in any local government meeting, you’ll rarely go wrong by investigating closed sessions. That’s where scheming bureaucrats and feckless elected officials run and hide anytime they’re trying to conceal things from the taxpayers – even though the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) doesn’t require closed sessions for anything, or require that anything said or done in closed session be treated as secret or confidential. And because bureaucrats and politicians hate it when anybody points that out about IOMA, we take every opportunity to do so.

Defenders of closed session usually argue that any “official action” (i.e., a vote) resulting from closed-session maneuvering still must be taken in an “open” meeting after the closed session, which is true as far as it goes. But often that public vote is on some vague-sounding motion or resolution that reveals little, if anything, to the average listener about the substance of what actually is taking place – or what took place in the closed session.

In this case, the Park Board’s “Closed Session” agenda item carried no reference to the IOMA section under which it was being conducted, so Item 8 served as the only hint: “Reconvene…to take action, if any, on the matter of approval of a collective bargaining agreement between the Park Ridge Park District and Service Employees International Union Local #73.”

What collective bargaining agreement, you might ask?

Who knows? No collective bargaining agreement/contract was part of the Board packet published on the District’s website on June 26, and none is there even now as this post is being published.  And if that’s not bad enough, watch the Special Meeting video and you will discover that the Board hadn’t seen it, either!

If that sounds to you a lot like Nancy Pelosi telling Congress it needed to vote on the ACA before its members could read the whole act – which has become known in some circles as “The Pelosi Way” – you’re not alone.

At the 10:49 mark of the meeting video Thillens moved to go into closed session to discuss the collective bargaining agreement. Biagi immediately voiced an objection to the closed session, however, which started a 7-minute discussion during which Thillens, several staff members and the District’s counsel tap-danced around what they could/should and couldn’t/shouldn’t say in open session; and whether they could run into closed session any time something problematic popped up.

It was during that discussion that Commissioner Mary Wynn Ryan asked the $64,000 question:

“What is more important, transparency or getting the best deal for the taxpayers?”

While it’s a great question, it causes us to wonder whether Ryan thinks those two things are mutually exclusive?  Or was she just buying into the “sizzle” being sold by the bureaucrats who negotiated the new contract, H.R. Director Diane DiGangi and Building & Grounds Supt. Terry Wolf (in whose department most of the SEIU-represented employees work), who self-servingly (?) proclaimed it “a great contract” and seemed to suggest that it might somehow be jeopardized without immediate Board approval?

Ryan’s question was initially answered at the 18:10 mark of the video, when the Board voted 4 (Commissioners Thillens, Biagi, Ryan and Brandt) to 1 (Commissioner Bende, with Commissioners O’Brien and Phillips absent) against going into closed session.

That led to about 35 minutes of open-session discussions during which we learned, among other things, that the SEIU wanted to dump three positions from its bargaining unit, thereby perhaps costing those employees their jobs.  Dumping bargaining unit members is almost unheard-of because most unions normally push the limits of the law to add members to their bargaining units. But further along in that discussion it came out that those employees being dumped favored the decertification of SEIU as the bargaining unit’s representative.

So much for how the SEIU deals with dissent in its ranks.

But that must have been just a bit too much transparency for the Board, including Ryan, because at the 52:10 mark Biagi inexplicably made a motion to go into…you guessed it!…closed session. And despite no explanation of why closed session was desired, the Board voted 5-0 to run and hide.

When the Board members emerged approximately 25 minutes later they promptly voted 4 (Thillens, Bende, Brandt and Ryan) to 1 (Biagi) to approve the contract they apparently still hadn’t read, before adjourning.

What went on during that 25-minute closed session is a mystery. We assume it involved the contract that the Board at that point still hadn’t seen. But unless the Board votes to make the recording and/or the minutes of the closed session public, we likely will never know what was said and done in that closed session.

We sincerely hope the contract the Park Board approved in such a NON-“transparent” fashion truly turns out to be the “great contract” DiGangi and Wolf insisted it is. But voting to approve a multi-year collective bargaining agreement without seeing the final contract, and without giving the taxpayers an opportunity to read and comment on it before it is voted on, is a totally horse-bleep way to do The People’s business.

And since such an insult to transparent government occurred under the watchful eye, if not at the behest of, the Park District’s executive director, we’ve got a name for it:

“The Mountcastle Way.”

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