Tinley Park, IL. (ECWd) -
The Village of Tinley Park has bungled yet another public meeting, finding itself in the unusual position of having to adjourn and cancel a scheduled open public meeting (already in progress) because citizens in attendance pointed out a glaring Open Meetings Act violation that was occurring during the meeting (with the Village’s attorney, Thomas Melody of Klein Thorpe Jenkins, once again in attendance and once more allowing the OMA violation to occur without seemingly doing anything to stop it).
Melody and Klein Thorpe Jenkins are paid handsomely to provide ongoing legal advice to the Village, yet seemingly week after week Melody appears to do nothing to stop the Village from breaking the law when it comes to the Open Meetings Act violations that the Village has been racking up since February.
This time, the Village decided to hold its most recent Board meeting in its tiny Council Chambers, which is a small room that was clearly unable to accommodate the 1,000 people who had arrived on 3/15/16 to complain about corruption and incompetence in their local government. The room was packed to bursting, with many people forced by an armed police officer to stand in the hallway outside the Council Chamber (where they could not see or hear what was happening in the meeting). Other unfortunate people were shunted off by police to an inadequate “overflow room” in a separate building, where they could neither see nor hear what was happening during the meeting (despite Village Clerk Patrick Rea claiming a new sound system was installed that very morning…which did not appear to be functioning properly, based on complaints raised by those who had been in the overflow room but came back to the Council Chambers to complain about not being able to hear).
You can watch citizens of Tinley Park take the Village Board to task for its Open Meetings Act violations and hear their complaints here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbvKcUcsyYs
The Open Meetings Act requires that all open public meetings be held in a place that is convenient and open to the public. A meeting room that is too small to accommodate a large crowd that is expected to attend a meeting is not considered “convenient and open” to the public. The case Gerwin v. Livingston County Board (2003) provides that: if the public body is aware that a controversial meeting or meeting with significant public interest is going to take place and suspects that the usual space is too small to accommodate the number of citizens who wish to attend a meeting, the public body must find an alternative location. If an alternative, larger venue is available and the public body refuses to change location, a violation of the Act has occurred based on the public’s inability to attend the meeting.
In the matter at hand, there is clear evidence that the Village of Tinley Park knew that the 3/15/16 Board Meeting would need to accommodate a large number of people but it decided not to make use of an alternative, larger venue as the OMA requires.
In a strange twist in the ongoing OMA violations spree in Tinley Park, Village Clerk Rea telephoned several citizens on or about 3/8/16, informing them that the 3/15/16 board meeting would be held at the local Odyssey Country Club and asking them to spread the word that the meeting was being moved to a large meeting space at the country club. This was because the Attorney General had already cautioned the Village that the Public Access Counselor’s office had received complaints about the 2/2/16, 2/4/16, and 2/16/16 Board and Planning Commission meetings, which were held improperly in the tiny Council Chambers room. Because of the OMA complaints about inadequate space for all meeting attendees at those February meetings (which apparently violated the OMA), the 3/1/16 Board Meeting was moved to the Tinley Park Convention Center so it would be OMA-compliant.
1,000 citizens attended that packed 3/1/16 meeting and gave the Village Board an earful over the seemingly improper (and possibly illegal) actions undertaken by the Village Planning Department that allowed a $16 million housing project tax-credits scheme to be snuck around zoning code to benefit an out of state developer with a checkered past. When Clerk Rea asked people to spread word that the 3/15/16 Board Meeting would be held at Odyssey Country Club, people believed him since the space there would be similar to what the Convention Center offered.
However, as the meeting date drew nearer and the Village continued to list the Council Chambers at Village Hall as the meeting location, citizens in Tinley Park became suspicious and feared that Clerk Rea had tried sending everyone on a wild goose chase to the Odyssey Country Club (so that people upset with the Village and wanting to give the Board another earful would go there instead of showing up to where the real meeting was going to be held). It was not until Sunday 3/13/16, that Clerk Rea admitted that the Odyssey Country Club had not been secured for the meeting as he had informed people verbally and that the Village intended to once again hold its Board Meeting in the too-small Council Chambers (in violation of the OMA).
On 3/15/16, as the Board was debating adjourning and canceling the meeting due to inadequate space for the public to attend, Trustee Brian Maher can clearly be heard admitting that the Village moved the meeting back to Village Hall at some point, claiming the Board wanted to save money by not having it a location such as the Convention Center or Country Club (which could have accommodated the large crowd). The Village not only admits it saw a need to consider an alternative, larger venue but Maher appears to confirm that they did indeed at first plan on having the meeting in an alternative, larger venue but then decided against it and moved the meeting back to the tiny Council Chambers.
The Village has yet to explain why it doesn’t simply just hold these board meetings in the cafeteria, gym, or auditorium of a local high school or even grade school in Tinley Park. Because the Village has refused to fully explain how the Legacy Code zoning ordinance was manipulated and improperly and illegally modified just enough to allow the unwanted housing project to skate through, citizens of Tinley Park continue to pack every public meeting demanding answers.
Fortunately for them, the citizens of Tinley Park have read and understand the Open Meetings Act and assert their legal rights during these open meetings. The Village and its attorney Thomas Melody from Klein Thorpe Jenkins look foolish even attempting to get away with OMA violations with such a well-informed public asserting their rights and taking this Board to task (while also continuing to catch it all on video).
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