Kudos To Council For Its “Unique” Antipathy Toward Closed Sessions (Updated)


We’ve always believed that the single best way to improve local government is to increase its transparency.

When the taxpayers can see and hear everything that a public body is doing, the chances for skullduggery, stupidity and outright mopery are substantially reduced. That’s because connivers and knuckleheads alike are reluctant to do their worst in full view of the folks who they purport to represent – or, in the case of the bureaucrats, the folks who pay their salaries.

Over the years we’ve often written about transparency. Unfortunately, most often it has been about the lack of it, especially when it comes to things like appointments of public officials (e.g., replacement elected officials, board and commission members, and executives) and those contract negotiations which the unions insist be conducted in closed sessions so that the taxpayers can’t see and hear the unions’ often outrageous demands and the arrogance with which they often are conveyed.

The folks who sit on the boards of School Districts 64 and 207 still seem to lack any clue about what “transparency” means. Either that, or they’re learning about it from the former Soviet Union Politburo playbook. They empower their respective propaganda ministers to “manage” information, and they run into closed sessions every chance they get – as evidenced most notably by their selection processes for appointed board positions that we wrote about in our 07.07.14 and 08.29.14 posts, respectively; and by D-64’s process for choosing a new superintendent, that we wrote about in our 12.27.13 post.

Recently the Park Ridge Park District, over the protestations of its executive director, has started to get some transparency traction. Last year it even held its evaluation of the aforementioned executive director in open session, which we applauded in our 03.20.14 post.

But ever since the election of Mayor Dave Schmidt in April 2009, the City has taken the lead in the transparency race, notwithstanding the regular push-back from the bureaucrats and the occasional alderman looking to shield their antics from public view. Schmidt paid for the first video camera that recorded Council meetings, and two of his campaign supporters ran the camera and uploaded the videos until WOW through in a new camera and live meeting broadcasts as part of its entry package into the Park Ridge market.

But the current Council, following Schmidt’s lead, has raised transparency – especially as demonstrated by the reluctance to run and hide in closed sessions – to new heights.

If you don’t believe us, listen to City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill’s acknowledgement of this Council’s “unique” level of transparency in his colloquy with Ald. Marty Maloney about open versus closed sessions for interviews of finalist firms for the new city attorney contract, which occurred during that portion of last Monday (01.26.14) night’s Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting beginning around the 2:16:30 mark of the meeting video:

“You guys are a unique outfit. You have an antipathy toward closed sessions, and I’m not so sure it’s not a real healthy antipathy.”

The double-negative notwithstanding, that’s high praise coming from somebody who has seen more than his share of closed sessions: Hill said that he has observed around 50 city attorney interview processes, but never one held in open session. Hence his calling the open-session interviewing this Council has expressed interest in doing  “establishing a precedent.”

And what an outstanding precedent it is!

So despite Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow signaling six more weeks of winter, the people of Park Ridge can bask in the warmth of knowing that their City Council appears to be “unique” in its antipathy for the kind of secrecy and political cowardice practiced by so many other communities’ governing bodies – and by our local school boards.

Just because Illinois law lets them get away with it.

UPDATE (02.03.15).  Just when we dish out the kudos to the Park Ridge City Council for their “unique” level of transparency, a majority of them decide to act like the Star Chambers running D-64 and D-207.

At last night’s Council meeting, four aldermen (Alds. Sweeney, Smith, Shubert and Mazzuca) outvoted three (Alds. Milissis, Knight and Maloney) to run and hide in closed session to discuss the City’s “negotiating strategy” with the Illinois Council of Police and Sheriffs (“ICOPS”) union, the Teamsters union (representing the rank and file police) and the Int’l Association of Firefighters (“Local 2697”).

Besides playing right into the hands of those unions who want to conceal their demands and negotiating demeanor from the taxpayers while wrapping themselves in mantles of selfless public service, Alds. Sweeney, Smith, Shubert and Mazzuca also are missing the boat on why transparency in dealing with public employees is so important: the taxpayers deserve to see and hear how the Council goes about figuring out what’s a fair deal for both the employees AND for the taxpayers, and why.  And it’s that “fair deal” that the City should offer.

Apparently those four majority alderman would prefer, instead, to do that figuring out in secret, then send out their negotiators with a series of low-ball offers in the hope of getting the unions to bite.  As if that might actually happen.

The history of public employee negotiations for the City and all our other local governmental bodies, however, demonstrates that such a “negotiating strategy” rarely, if ever, works.  That’s because the unions are far more motivated to fight for their members’ own personal pocketbooks than our public officials are motivated to fight for OPM. So Sweeney, Smith, Shubert and Mazzuca are blowing smoke up their own kilts if they think they’re going to come up with a “negotiating strategy” that will snooker the unions into a better deal for the taxpayers.

Our guess, therefore, is that those four majority aldermen don’t want the taxpayers to see and hear how quickly and tightly they – and whoever comprises the City’s negotiating team – grab their ankles in response to the unions’ demands.  And while that might not be a pretty sight, that’s EXACTLY why transparency is so important.

To read or post comments, click on title.

9 comments so far

I remember going to council meetings before Schmidt became mayor and having no idea what the council was discussing because the packets were not posted on the city’s website or available at the meetings. That alone is a big plus, as is the videos of the meetings, maybe even more so than the fewer closed sessions. And thank you ald. Maloney for raising those questions with the city attorney.

Bravo, indeed. I took a few minutes to watch the video, and was disappointed that Mr. Hill never explained his rationale for why closed sessions are better, or why this new precedent is unhealthy. All we were left with as rationale? “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

D64? D207? Park District? Should I not hold my breath waiting for your answers?

EDITOR’S NOTE: What we heard him say is that closed sessions might NOT be “better,” and that this Council’s “unique” approach might NOT be an “unhealthy” precedent. He simply pointed out that all the other public officials that he has dealt with run and hide from the taxpayers any chance the get.

Your best chance is the Park District, where the sparks of transparency have become a flickering flame. D-64 and D-207, on the other hand, would hold their meetings in underground bunkers with nobody present if they could get away with it.

The City has more transparency, swell!!!

A more appropriate topic is why are the streets not salted better / more? This isn’t the 1970’s. Did the city not purchase enough salt? Can’t they use sand? The travel conditions on some of the main roads in PR are deplorable.

EDITOR’S NOTE: And because there’s more transparency at City Hall, had you attended or watched last night’s meeting you would have heard – in open session – that there is PLENTY of salt, but that the Public Works department elected not to spread it until AFTER it finished plowing.

Maybe they should how to plow properly first

EDITOR’S NOTE: Did you mean to say “learn how to plow properly first”?



Fact 1: They will not show up. It is not enough of an issue to them. Some of these posters act as if this is an issue that has been going on forever. It does not appear they ever showed up in the past. Last year was “snowmagedden” and this was never a big issue during any meetings last year.

Fact 2: They don’t want to pay for it.

Fact 3: It is much more fun to bitch about it in the blogosphere.

Fact 4: The vast majority of people in PR believe that, while not perfect (always room for improvement), the plowing that has taken place over the last 72 hours is at a reasonable and acceptable level for a storm of this size.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fact 1: Yes. Fact 2: Yes. Fact 3: Yes.

Fact 4: NObody knows what the “vast majority of people in PR” want, don’t want, believe, or dream about, in large part because the “vast majority” of voters doesn’t turn out even for elections when certain stuff can be measured by votes cast.

To your update….what a shame.

Sweeney, Smith, Shubert and Mazzuca should be ashamed of themselves. Hey, at least when Schuburt and Mazzuca are up for re-election they can get some of that Union money.

Transparency is loved to be talked about during elections, but rarely achieved because of the weak or scandalous politicians.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A big disappointment.

Sweeney & Smith don’t care what anyone thinks, they’re not running for re-election. But let’s remember this when Shubert & Mazzuca are up for re-election in 2 years. Shame on the 4 of them!

“I’m not so sure it’s not a real healthy antipathy.” Hmmm. Unless I heard what came after, I’d wonder what Buzz meant; your happy interpretation or the obverse. The only concern I’d have with your approach is that, by law, there are only a couple of areas where closed meetings are even legally allowed. And there’s a scientific phenomenon in which the item studied changes just because it’s being studied. I think that’s true of sticky negotiations when a public meeting makes nice people shy away from candor and tough people posture even more belligerently.
Neither gets optimal results. I know you can live with this as you toss babies out with bathwater all the time. But some voters would prefer to give their elected officials marching orders and then hold them to the results — or insist on pretty dang good reasons why they didn’t achieve it. Loss of face, comity and all that good stuff isn’t always necessary. Fun, but not necessary.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gee, we would have thought that after embedding a link to that video and telling you the exact point at which to start watching, you might actually have made the effort to watch for yourself instead of speculating on what Buzz said after the lines we quoted.

Not surprisingly for someone who won’t take the time to watch spoon-fed video, you’re wrong about there being “only a couple of areas where closed meetings are even legally allowed”: there are 31 different exceptions to the requirement of open meetings, although we remind you and our other readers that closed sessions are permitted but not required; nor are their proceedings required to be kept secret.

Your idea that “a public meeting makes nice people shy away from candor and tough people posture even more belligerently” is probably true – but most likely for gutless, principle-challenged politicians. And maybe for public sector union bullies who are used to having their butts kissed by gutless, principle-challenged politicians, primarily of the Democrat/Madigan/Cullerton persuasion.

Finally, anybody who suffers any “loss of face” from doing the public’s business probably has at least one spare face to put on.

What does this not being the 70’s have to do with anything here?


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