Editorials

City leaders add insult to injury of illegal secret meeting

O’Fallon Mayor Gary Graham at the Feb. 21 City Council meeting chastized and shouted at resident Kie Zelms over her pursuit of city records and an Illinois Attorney General review of the council’s violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act two years earlier.
O’Fallon Mayor Gary Graham at the Feb. 21 City Council meeting chastized and shouted at resident Kie Zelms over her pursuit of city records and an Illinois Attorney General review of the council’s violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act two years earlier. File photo

You have cost the citizens thousands of dollars.”

That was part of O’Fallon Mayor Gary Graham’s attempt to bully resident Kie Zelms who had the audacity to expect elected leaders to follow the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The real problem is that Graham and the O’Fallon City Council were the ones in the wrong.

Instead of apologizing for breaking the law by meeting in secret over a matter that was the public’s business, the city leaders were the ones who “cost the citizens thousands of dollars.” They conducted a two-year legal battle to keep some pretty obvious transgressions secret and still resent Zelms’ right to access public documents through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

On Jan. 5, 2015, the council went into executive session about privatizing the city’s water and sewer services. Members told the public they were going to set a price on public property as well as discuss the sale or lease — perfectly legal reasons for holding a meeting in secret.

Eighty-five minutes later they came out with a plan for a voter referendum on the issue. Obviously their discussions in private strayed far from the stated topic, and that was the considered opinion of the Illinois Attorney General’s office.

Wrong. Hand slapped. Release the tape of the illegal secret meeting.

So what do Graham and the city attorney do? They should have given Zelms a plaque for her dedication to open government, but instead they drag their feet for two weeks, schedule the tape for a public airing late at night and get into a shouting match with Zelms for daring to call them out on their error.

Next time, O’Fallon city leaders, how about erring on the side of conducting the public’s business in public? Then when you make a mistake, just admit it and apologize.

Better yet, if you are so concerned about the “thousands of dollars” that citizens were charged to expose the things you tried to hide, how about making taxpayers whole by reaching into your own pockets to pay for your mistakes?

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