by: Diane Benjamin
On November 15th, Alderwoman Judy Stearns walked out of an Executive Session of the Bloomington City Council. Executive Sessions are SECRET meetings governed by laws created by the State of Illinois. These laws are meant to protect citizens by severely restricting what CAN be discussed in these SECRET meetings.
When Alderwoman Stearns walked out, she stated that she was leaving BECAUSE the topics being discussed were illegal and she would file the violation with the Attorney General’s Public Access office. The entire Council, Mayor Renner, and City Manager David Hales WAS aware of her statement. Not one of the these people discussed this with Ms. Stearns after the executive session ended. I would think they would be anxious to resolve the matter before the Attorney General was brought in to rule. They obviously believed she would not file a complaint with the AG’s office. Alderwoman Stearns had no choice but to file. She was an unwilling participant in an activity that violated the law. Her oath of office would have meant nothing is she had sat through the illegal meeting.
I did talk to Alderman Lower. He stated the tape will show he supported Alderwoman Stearn’s reasons for leaving. He also stated he asked for compliance with the law or he would leave too. Eventually individual employees were discussed as the law requires. Lower feels that eventually the law was complied with. Is eventually good enough? The rest of the Council, the City Manager, and the Mayor must think so. The Attorney General will make that decision.
Bloomington: Keep in mind that these are the same Council members who voted to NOT release the minutes of executive sessions! They had to be forced by the AG’s office to review the minutes, they voted to keep most of what has been discussed in the past a SECRET. They voted to NOT release former City Manger Tom Hamilton’s evaluations. They praised him as City Manger, gave him large raises, and then totally blamed him for the City’s financial mess when he left. The majority of the Council says YOU have NO right to know what is said in Executive Sessions.
Mayor Renner’s defense is everything discussed in the SECRET session, except employees, was later discussed in public. Mayor: That is not a defense! It is not permissible to discuss anything in executive session not explicitly outlined in the law. You are not allowed to discuss culture changes in a long diatribe before getting to what is legal to discuss. Here is the summary provided by the Attorney general: http://foia.ilattorneygeneral.net/pdf/FAQ_OMA_Government.pdf
The law doesn’t say long diatribes can take place prior to the approved discussions. The law doesn’t say the Mayor can demand complete loyalty from the Council. It doesn’t say unanimous votes can be required of the Council. Culture change (still undefined by the Mayor) isn’t covered either. The only culture change evident to date is more secrecy-why else would a little town need a Communications director? Why would Renner demand the Council have David Hales’ back? How can the Council have Hales’ back when they don’t know what the agenda is?
Mayor Renner has been on WJBC Friday and Saturday bashing Alderwoman Stearns. He wasn’t content with just bashing Ms. Stearns in public. He decided to write to the Council too. He is correct on many things, but for incorrect reasons.
Let’s hear you demand loyalty in public Mayor! Release the tape if you are convinced you are right! Redact the discussions about specific employees, but release the rest! You state over and over again that everything was made public in open session! Why wait until the AG rules?
Is it so difficult for Mayor Transparency to understand the Council represents the people in their Ward. The Council is not there to comply with whatever idea the Mayor and City Manager have for Bloomington. The rubber stamp 7 don’t understand their role, but as a Political Science professor, I assumed you did. When Alderwoman Stearns specifically said she was going to file, what didn’t you believe about what she said?
Below is the email Mayor Renner sent to the Council. He admits to discussing in executive Session what was later discussed in public. That Mayor Transparency is a violation. Executive Sessions aren’t for making sure everybody knows their place before plans are made public.
Exactly what agenda would Ms. Stearns have for filing Mr. Mayor? Transparency? Complying with the law? Let’s hear what agenda you think she has! Your response is the classic attempt to marginalize Alderwoman Stearns. She is upholding her oath of office as she understands it. Where does the rest of the Council stand? Are you waiting for the Attorney General to rule and then you will be on her side?
Mayor: Your attempt to declare Stearns a villain diminishes your credibility. Maybe listening to Council member’s opinions when expressed would have been prudent.
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: Thu, 19 Dec 2013I just read the letter sent to the AG’s office that will be reported on by Rachel Wells.