An ordinance championed by Oak Lawn Village Trustee Michael Carberry, over a year ago, to end surprises at board meetings, that created a “Committee of the Whole” has become a “Committee of the Secret” according to one Trustee and village records we reviewed.
Carberry originally floated the idea of adding a “Committee of the Whole Meeting” to the list of meetings Trustees would attend saying the idea was an “effort to get all of us together so we know what’s going to be on the agenda and nobody will be surprised”.
Mayor Sandra Bury had placed appointments on the agenda at the time without consulting with board members. One of the appointments would have resulted in the termination of a Planning and Development Commission Member’s term even though his term had not expired. Carberry had not been aware of the appointment until it appeared on the agenda.
In February 2014, the board approved by a 4-1 vote, the creation of the Committee of the Whole by passing an ordinance. The ordinance clearly states, “The purpose of the Committee of the Whole meetings shall be primarily for discussing and vetting items brought before the village board for eventual consideration and approval. Routine committee and commission referrals need not be placed on the Committee of the Whole Agenda unless said referrals require a presentation and/or upon which discussion is anticipated. In no event shall the Committee of the Whole vote on Ordinances or Resolutions”.
Trustee Alex Olejniczak (Dist. 2) argued at the time the ordinance was approved that the majority on the board was not trying to hide anything even though it did not intend to televise the meetings. He said, “All business will have to be vetted in front of the full board and board members will still have every opportunity to debate, discuss and talk”.
However, at the last meeting the Village Board increased the utility tax by five times and never discussed the issue at a Committee of the Whole Meeting. In fact, the board has cancelled every Committee of the Whole Meeting thus far in 2015, through June.
Trustee Carberry claimed that the utility tax increase was “vetted” at the Legislative, License and Ethics Committee, on which he serves as chairman and is limited to three board members rather than the full board. The effect is that dissenting Trustees have not been included in discussions.
Trustee Robert Streit (Dist. 3) said that the cancellation of scheduled Committee of the Whole Meetings in favor of discussing items at other committees violates the village’s own ordinance and is “a slap in the face to residents who continuously demand transparency to no avail”.
According to the village’s own code of ordinances, the Legislative, License and Ethics Committee’s purpose is to “review and advise the Board of Trustees in relation to legal policies, ordinances amending the village code, licenses and license fees, and the Village of Oak Lawn Ethics Ordinance…”.
“The work that the board does is the business of the public and it should be done in the open with the cameras on and with all the board members having an equal opportunity to discuss and debate the merits”, said Streit.
He said that anything else makes it seems like the board is trying to hide something. “In this case, they were able to sneak a hefty tax increase by the public”, said Streit.