Despite a vow of “open government”, “increased transparency” and “end to insider deals”, Mayor Sandra Bury’s administration can’t seem to get beyond petty politics and complaints of using the village’s resources for political purposes.
The latest complaint is being leveled by residents and other individuals who have accessed the Village of Oak Lawn’s Facebook Page and written comments that have been censored by an unknown employee or consultant.
The Oak Lawn Leaf, acting on complaints of its readers, reviewed the Village’s Facebook Page as well as screen shots of comments that were posted by residents and then mysteriously removed because they were critical of the Mayor or embattled Village Manager Larry Deetjen.
When Mayor Bury posted a “YouTube” holiday message to the Facebook page, comments such as one from Mary K. Barton that said, “Very Well Done” remained posted while a comment from Deb Klos Handzik, that posted the village’s policy on drug and alcohol testing for employees was deleted.
Handzik, a village 911 emergency dispatcher, was making a point that Village Manager Deetjen was apparently not subject to the same rules as the rank and file union employees.
Likewise, a comment by Bill Flanagan was removed after he questioned why the Village Manager was not in jail after crashing a village vehicle. Flanagan, correctly predicted that the comment would get “removed like some others”.
Oak Lawn resident Mickey Depre has confirmed that she was “blocked” from the Village of Oak Lawn Facebook page after posting comments that were not complimentary of Mayor Bury.
Depre commented on the Oak Lawn Leaf Facebook page, which is open for all comments, “I just realized I am banned from making a comment on the Village of Oak Lawn Facebook page. I was banned from the Oak Lawn Patch page as they didn’t like a feedback comment about a story they wrote. But I have never commented before on the Village page. More proof that those two work “hand in hand”. All those posting feedback about snow removal on the village page beware.”
Julie Lorenz Miller, the wife of an Oak Lawn Police Officer, who spoke at a Village Board Meeting against a plan to outsource 911 Emergency Dispatchers also had a comment removed from the Facebook page.
The Oak Lawn Leaf left messages for Deetjen, Mayor Bury and the Village’s IT Director Tom Swaw, asking who at the village is responsible for posting information on Facebook and who determines what information should be removed. The e-mail to Swaw was returned as “undeliverable”.
Bury did respond but refused to answer the question. Her response was as follows: “Also, as outlined in our prior email exchange, I would require this meeting in person, recording the encounter with your permission to ensure accuracy. I am sure you understand why.”
Bury copied two village attorneys and the village manager on the e-mail. The village attorneys charge the village for reviewing e-mails and have been paid over a million dollars a year by the village.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits governments from making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. According to the Oak Lawn Leaf’s legal experts, the censorship of comments raises a constitutional issue and opens the village up to possible litigation if it continues to “censor” comments.
The Village’s Facebook page states that it is “The Official Village of Oak Lawn Facebook page.” However, the Facebook page was never approved by the village board at an open meeting and no information has been provided as to who operates the page.
Mayor Bury has faced similar complaints related to her own blog, in which she uses the Village’s address and phone number. The blog provides Bury’s political perspective on various issues and has attacked both Trustee Robert Streit (Dist. 3) and Carol Quinlan (Dist. 5).
At a meeting over a month ago, Quinlan asked the Village Attorney if the address and phone number could be used on the blog. The attorney, Pat Connelly, claimed he was not familiar with the blog. As of this date, according to Quinlan, she has not received a response despite asking for one several times. The phone number on the blog is answered by village employees.
Ironically, Mayor Bury touted the village’s new website transparency grade from the Illinois Policy Institute in her remarks at Tuesday’s board meeting. The new grade showed an improvement for the village website.
Streit, when asked about the Facebook controversy, said, “residents are sick and tired of the in your face politics that Bury has brought to every facet of our village government.” Streit said that while he and the other Trustees are rightly proud of improving the score for website transparency, the Bury administration has failed to be transparent in its everyday decisions.
Streit pointed to the Mayor’s failure to address the Larry Deetjen car abandonment issue and now what he called “blatant censorship”