Swansea Trustee Matt Lanter thinks it is a shame that tax dollars are being spent defending the village from a lawsuit over the Open Meetings Act. He’s right, but for the wrong reasons.
It is a shame village trustees tried to hide the public’s business in an executive session on Dec. 21 when they thought there was a chance they’d be sued over using $170,000 in tax increment financing funds to buy a fire truck. It is a shame village leaders didn’t have a better understanding of the state law intended to keep government transparent to the public. It is a shame they improperly spent taxes from a restricted fund and now have to fix their mistake.
But it is not a shame that former mayor Jim Rauckman brought the issue to light or challenged the village for going into closed session when they shouldn’t have.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office offers mandatory training for elected officials on the state’s Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act. Now would be a good time for Swansea to ensure all of its leaders brush up on the laws.
The training will tell them that they cannot just imagine a lawsuit might be filed. They must find that a lawsuit is probable or imminent, and they must put that reason in the closed session minutes. The lawsuit that Rauckman now has filed will prompt a judge to review the recording of the Dec. 21 closed meeting and determine whether it was closed properly. If it was improperly closed, the recording will be made public.
And while we’re retraining our elected leaders on the public’s right to know and to be heard, the Cahokia Village Board also would benefit from a refresher course on open meetings and public records.
Madigan’s office just found that Cahokia did violate the Open Meetings Act when Mayor Curtis McCall Jr. on Aug. 25 muzzled a member of the public and had police remove the woman just because she wanted to make a comment instead of ask a question. That move apparently emboldened him so that by November he was booting Trustee Jerry Nichols for asking why McCall had hired convicted felons and why he was paying a personal assistant so much.
It is expected that public leaders will be open to hearing from their constituents. It is the law that they conduct the public’s business in public and give that public an opportunity to be heard.