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Schlaker Alleges Open Meetings Act Violations, Files Review Request

Village trustee says timing just days before election is not the issue.

Oswego Village Trustee David Schlaker has asked the Illinois Attorney General's Office to investigate what he calls a series of Illinois Open Meetings Act violations involving four other trustees.

Schlaker, who is running to retain his seat on the Village Board, filed his request for review with the state Monday, March 28, just days before Tuesday, April 5's election.

Natalie Bauer, communications director for the Attorney General's Office, said the request has been received by the office and an assistant attorney general will be assigned to review the request within seven days of when it was filed.

In his request, Schlaker alleges OMA violations have been ongoing since he was first elected to the board in April 2007.

"It was shortly after that election that I became aware of the subversive action of members of my board along with two other residents," Schlaker wrote in his request.

As evidence of more recent OMA violations, Schlaker provided an account of an alleged Aug. 17 meeting between trustees Terry Michels, Jeff Lawson and Scott Volpe and Village Administrator Gary Adams.

In the meeting, which is alleged to have taken place between that evening's Committee of the Whole and regular Village Board session, Michels reportedly told Adams his contract with the village would not be renewed. 

Adams confirmed the meeting Wednesday, saying Lawson and Volpe were summoned by Michels to confirm the news. The Illinois Open Meetings Act prohibits a quorum, or a majority of a quorum, of a public body from meeting to discuss village business without proper public legal notification. On a six-person board, a quorum constitutes four members and a majority of a quorum is three members, according to Maryam Judar, a community lawyer with Elmhurst-based Citizens Advocacy Center.

Adams announced last week his last day with the village will be June 3, saying he has taken a city manager's job in Huber Heights, OH.

For his part, Michels said Tuesday he does not remember the meeting, calling Schlaker's submission to the attorney general a "desperate last-minute" campaign distraction.

"It's unfortunate that the residents are being fed this garbage," said Michels, who is also running to retain his seat. "David Schlaker is the least effective board member, and he's trying to distract from that. I'm confident that if anyone looks into this they'll find no wrong-doing."

Schlaker said he only learned of the incident and other possible OMA violations in recent weeks.

"Had I learned of this sooner I would have gone straight to the attorney general's office," Schlaker said of the timing of his submission. "The timing does not discount what occurred."

Lawson also questioned Schlaker's timing. He said he recalls discussing Adams' employment with Michels present, but said he didn't remember Volpe being part of the discussion.

"I'm shocked and a little baffled by this," Lawson said. "I guess I have to question the motivation behind all this."

Volpe said he also recalls the incident but says after he discovered that village business was being discussed between the three, he walked away. Volpe, likewise, questioned Schlaker's timing.

"This is probably the most negative mud-slinging campaign I can think of," he said. "This will go down as one of the worst."

Something that could prevent the issue from going much further than just a review is the requirement in OMA that a complaint be filed within 60 days of its occurrence. However, Bauer said the attorney general's office mission is to have public bodies in compliance with the law—no matter the date of when a violation may have occurred.

As further evidence of  OMA violations, Schlaker also submitted what he says is a personal e-mail from last summer from Lawson to Trustee Tony Giles about how board members should vote on village-financed infrastructure improvements for the Alexander Square development.

The e-mail opens with the salutation "Men," suggesting it was also addressed to more than Giles. The e-mail also includes communication between Trustee Scott Volpe on the matter.

"The fact that Trustee Lawson addressed this e-mail to 'Men' and acknowledges and continues  communication between Trustee Volpe not only establishes a quorum, but also establishes commensurate communication regarding issues pertaining to the village outside an official Village Board meeting and more importantly denying the public view," Schlaker wrote.

Both Volpe and Lawson declined to discuss the e-mail without knowing its full contents. However, Volpe said he doesn't think Village Board members have a problem with frequent and sustained OMA violations.

Village President Brian LeClercq agreed.

"I've always believed in transparency in open government, and I'm taken aback by this," he said. "I think this is politically motivated, and I have a real problem with someone bringing this up one week before the election."

In his request to the attorney general, Schlaker painted a completely opposite picture.

"I have heard tell for years, the conversations that go on behind the scenes with these same trustees regarding issues confronting the village," Schlaker wrote.

Robert Eberhardt March 31, 2011 at 10:27 PM
Kudos to Ruth for keeping an open mind. You cannot claim to have an open mind and be impartial if you’re unwilling to postpone your judgment until you have all of the facts from both sides. You would expect nothing less if you were accused of something similar. There are three possible outcomes, there is more proof, it could be a possible misunderstanding, or could be politically motivated. The only absolute fact is that we don’t know yet. To assume you could get a complete array of all the facts from all parties involved in the next five days is disingenuous at best. Because of this, voters are forced to make an important decision WITHOUT all the facts. If the accusations are true, the appropriate action should be taken, and Mr. Schlaker should be applauded for having the courage to be a whistleblower. On the other end of the spectrum, if it is politically motivated the appropriate action should be taken against the individual making the claim. Unfortunately, just the release of this information has swayed the election. If it were proven to be true, and I had voted for the accused, I would rescind my support and in turn support Mr. Schlaker.
Robert Eberhardt March 31, 2011 at 10:27 PM
On the other hand, what if it is politically motivated, for those of you who assume the accused are guilty, would you be willing to rescind your support for Mr. Schlaker and in turn support the accused? Based on your comments my assumption is that you would not. Right here, right now I am on record as saying I would be willing to change my support either direction based upon ALL the facts. Are you willing to do the same? If you cannot, then this is strictly a partisan political issue for you, and in turn, diminishes how others view the reasoning of your support for a candidate. The timing of this HAS swayed this election for better or for worse, whether or not it is true. For anyone who wishes to twist my words, let it be clear for the 3rd time I am not accusing Mr. Schlaker of anything other than poor timing, although some of you are likely to accusing me of some ulterior motive, once again without all the facts.
Adam Engler March 31, 2011 at 10:31 PM
@Diane--the 'meeting' was in a parking lot...bullying is the word I would use in addition to being in violation of the OMA. Is this behavior you want from your elected officials? In school they would be disciplined.
Don Ryba March 31, 2011 at 11:48 PM
It seems a bit odd that Michels doesn't remember anything but there are witnesses to this parking lot meeting. I'd also like to know LeClercq's involvement in the whole thing. He says that he's "taken aback" by this but I seriously doubt he knew nothing about it. The timing of this accusation is immaterial. What matters is a law seems to have been broken. If the Attorney General determines that these charges are valid, Michels, Lawson and Volpe all need to resign with LeClercq following close behind.
Adam Engler April 01, 2011 at 12:15 AM
They affected someone's life here--Gary Adams had to find new employ because of their actions. His family will have to relocate and restart their lives. The ethics of these actions should make our residents shudder. This is so much more than OMA violation; this is truely disappointing.
Tina Conley April 01, 2011 at 12:37 AM
My mind was made up long before this story came out. This was just the nail in the coffin!
Don Ryba April 01, 2011 at 12:53 AM
Mr. Enger, How right you are. Obviously Mr. Adams was too professional and ethical for part of this Board. They must long for the days of Bruce Bonebreak and his shenanigans. Shame on them.
Tina Conley April 01, 2011 at 01:08 AM
I read the emails, y'all might want to step down now, OMG
Bill Dano April 01, 2011 at 01:11 AM
Hopefully the voters in Oswego recognized the signs of collusion by these obstructionist trustees long before this week. If people are paying attention and vote than these charges will soon be forgotten and the problems with our village board along with it. This election is about leadership, jobs, and the direction of our town. David Schlaker is a leader that we can trust, and bringing these charges to the AG is another example. The only disappointment is that he didn't have the evidence sooner and perhaps these trustees could have been removed from the ballot before the election.
Jane Enviere April 01, 2011 at 01:23 AM
To be fair, Mr. Adams has made a career out of relocating since that's the very nature of his job. He sounds like he found a great new opportunity and hopefully it all works out well for him and his family. I doubt most residents wish him any ill will. We'll just have to see what an investigation yields. If there's wrongdoing, then shame on them. If not, then so it goes. I just don't share Eric's optimism that the other candidates will lead us anywhere but right back to the old days of Weber and company.
Jane Enviere April 01, 2011 at 01:24 AM
Oops - I meant Adam's optimism. ; ) Sorry!
Adam Engler April 01, 2011 at 01:30 AM
@Jane--can you tell me what was so terrible about this Weber? And why people hang on to that old stuff. We came when all the cool stuff was happening--big stores, restaurants, a wider Ogden, etc...I'm trying to figure out what everybody hates.
Ruth F April 01, 2011 at 02:07 AM
I have now read the full complaint and the e-mail and I have some thoughts. As to why this is brought up now... right before the election. If you suspected your next door neighbor was selling drugs because "someone told you", you wouldn't go hog wild calling the police on your neighbor until you had some concrete evidence. It is possible he did not have this evidence until recently. I'm willing to give the Benefit of Doubt with that one until i get further info. I found the complaint to be written professionally and with a lot of thought put into it. It seems that arguments were laid out, "proof" given and then summarized. In regards to the alleged e-mail I frankly read it with my mouth open most of the time due to the sheer gall of the letter. With that said, he was acting as an agent in my opinion, of the Village of Oswego and therefore, the commentary he made really opened my eyes a bit. And I can see where Trustee Schlaker saw a need to call it to the AG attention. It's so nice to know that Mr. Lawson didn't want to have 100 citizens in the board meeting when they were discussing the Alexander project. Maybe 5o would have been acceptable to him. The rest was something you'd hear in 7th grade gym class. Don't play with him. Play with me. Let's all go and do this at the same time. I love Justin Bieber. Do you? Circle yes or no. Very eye opening. Wow.
Diane Selmer April 01, 2011 at 12:50 PM
Give me a break, Schlaker is leftover from the Weber group which caused all the problems, i.e developer giveways, water fund issues, garbage contracts, approving dense developments, etc. which put the village into a mess, and I recall meeting where Schlaker and Lori West and Rock left meeting so as not to have a quorum -- a "temper tantrum" of sorts for those 3,(if you don't agree with me I pick up my toys and go home) and he had been absent from meetings. Oswego Voters had enough and voted in the present trustees who have placed us on the right track to correct past errors and are fiscally responsible. OMA and Schlaker ---too fishy for me -- good grief some of these comments make it sound like these trustees should be drawn and quartered. Wasn't the Kendall county board told they were violating the OMA, didn't hear prosecute them, make them resign, hateful comments, etc. I seriously question anyone who seeks an elected position via personal attacks and smear tactics ala the "Chicago way". My opinion , you have yours, now have a nice day, I will!!!
Rachelle Stoller April 01, 2011 at 01:35 PM
@Diane, with all due respect, I'm a little confused by the change in campaign messaging for LeClerqc and co. So, now you are agreeing that they are anti-business. I mean, by your own statements, they were the ones who stopped Weber from welcoming businesses. It's true that they seem to have done that, but doesn't that make them the "no" group, by definition? Also, you mention the "Chicago Way" and that you don't want that here. But, the "Chicago Way" seems to included electing officials who are under investigation, under indictment and even on their way to jail. It would seem by your statements that you are actually in support of the "Chicago Way". Having lived in Chicago, I've experienced first-hand the financial and commercial toll that comes from having elected officials under investigation. I'll take a pass. How about we just move forward with a fresh start?
Scott Henderson April 01, 2011 at 02:18 PM
Okay, I said I was going to stop posting as I feel that many times I would be better off finding a brick and hitting myself in the head with it, but since I don't see a brick around anwyhere... Ms. Selmer, have you read the copy of the e-mail sent by Mr. Lawson? If not, I encourage you to do so before you comment again. You complain about the actions of Brad Rock and Lori West, but I think what you will find in Lawson's e-mail is behavior that is much worse. Conspiring with other trustees before a meeting to vote against a joint review board simply because Lawson doesn't want to experience the pain of hearing a difference of opinion from that review board all summer. Skipping a committee meeting because he had not been provided answers to questions that he might have received had he actually attended the meeting. In the e-mail, Lawson says that he likes an idea offered by Mr. Volpe but Lawson counsels him to wait before taking his idea public. All of this done outside of the public's view. I'll tell you that I was initially skeptical too and I despise tactics like the "election eve surprise," but the fact that this wasn't in this weeks Ledger Sentinel is telling to me as this is not widely reported in the press and most in the village do not even know about it. Whether a law was broken or not, I am now skeptical of this board. The majority's minds seem closed and they do not welcome outside views. I think we should FOIA other e-mails. There's smoke here.
K Knoernschild April 01, 2011 at 06:28 PM
Well, all I know is that the first thing I want to do after Sollinger, Mancke, Schlaker & Johnson are elected, is get a great restaurant in the Firehouse - so we can have a move on. Because I am so over the anti-business/no-coalition. And I sincerely hope their antics do not end up costing this town any money, because they certainly haven't worked in our favor to cover it.
Ruth F April 01, 2011 at 06:35 PM
Sorry if I am a broken record, but I work with a lot of people that I consider friends. And often times we have to debate work issues. But we are adult, and agree to disagree sometimes and realize that we don't always have to have the same thoughts, votes and feelings. I just was reading back on the site and saw this comment about the Senior Housing Development that was passed. "Trustees Tony Giles, Jeff Lawson and Terry Michels voted no on a motion to approve the final planned unit development and rezoning of the land. For his part, Giles said he voted no because he believed the village was giving away too much in fees to the developers, Three Diamond Developers of Skokie." Now i really want to know. How often do these three people vote the same way on issues. I think I'll take some time on my lunch hour and find out. I think someone needs to break up this little BFF group. Suddenly things are looking a bit more clear.
Tina Conley April 01, 2011 at 06:41 PM
BFF, you're cute Ruth, welcome aboard GF!
Jim Lausier April 02, 2011 at 05:51 PM
Ruth, I'm sure you'll find that these three Trustees vote the same way on most issues, but if you look only at votes, you'll probably find that their opponents vote with them on more issues than you would think. This is because on most governing boards, an item isn't even called for a vote until there is a general consensus that all of the details have been ironed out. Often this will include compromises negotiated between different trustees or even different groups of Trustees. These may be negotiated in sub-committee meetings of Committee of the Whole meetings - but in any case, they are negotiated at published, open, scheduled meetings. What I'm saying is that the story isn't in the votes. The story is in the conversations and negotiations that lead up to the votes. That's why it's so important that these conversations take place IN PUBLIC - not in their "little BFF group". (Love BFF group, by the way. :-) )
Jane Enviere April 02, 2011 at 08:16 PM
I do not condone violations of the law in any way. That said -- BFF groups are everywhere. In workplaces, serving in government, candidates hoping to serve in government, neighborhoods -- everywhere. Let's not kid ourselves. ; )
Tina Conley April 02, 2011 at 08:55 PM
When they represent the people, there is no excuse for what they did
Diane Selmer April 03, 2011 at 02:33 PM
Mr. Henderson etc. -- one word applies---- "alleged".
Robert Eberhardt April 03, 2011 at 03:31 PM
I guess at this point I must truly be ignorant. If there is any possible misdoing at this point, and frankly I am not convinced of it yet, because we still do not have ALL the facts, would potentially lie with Mr. Lawson. What’s more is that Mr. Lawson is NOT running for office in this election. In order for there to be a meeting doesn’t there have to be “interactive communication” (this quote came directly from Mr. Schlaker’s post on this matter) between people. Where is the possible inappropriate “interactive communication” from the two people actually running in this race Mr. Giles, and Mr. Michels? If Mr. Schlaker were copied on this email I would see no possible misdoing on his part. If he on the other hand responded to create a dialog or “interactive communication”, that would be a completely different story. I am convinced that all Trustees have received email from other Trustees in which at least 3 of them were contacted. If I were to send someone the details of a crime I was about to commit does that make you guilty of the crime for receiving the email? If a close friend commits a crime are you an accessory because you know them or communicate with them? No, it depends on what you do or don’t do with it.
Robert Eberhardt April 03, 2011 at 03:31 PM
As for as for the “statistically staggering in their similarity ranging from within 0.5 to 5% of the totals”, this is the weakest of the arguments. In a free market, in everything ranging from gas, to milk, to health care costs, pricing is always this close for the nearly identical products or services. The statistical anomaly is the price that is far from the mean. Just go back to your statistics class. We have gone from guilty to proven innocent directly to guilt by association. Frankly, the only thing that has happened is that I have more questions about the timing of this not less. And for the 5th time, if it is proven that there has been wrong doing the appropriate actions should be taken. This should have waited until after the election.
Tina Conley April 03, 2011 at 03:48 PM
How about texting the other "men" bout how to vote during the interactive meetings? My dogs could do a better job
Adam Engler April 03, 2011 at 09:14 PM
@ Robert--this is what is meant by a culture of 'no.' So many residents have known there's been collusion for a long time between all four (Giles, Michels, Lawson, and Volpe)--it's been hard to pinpoint, until now. OMA violations are serious because they cut the public out--an obvious intent from Lawson's email. Too many votes have been taken without comment or conversation from these 4; it's apparent it's no coincidence. The legality will have to be for others to decide--the ethics you can decide--you're a smart man. We welcome you into the light :)
Chrisi Vineyard April 04, 2011 at 08:20 PM
Here is a few excerpts from Trustee Jeff Lawson’s full page email to 4 board members: Hello Men, My feeling is that we need to vote NO on the joint review board on Tuesday. Do we want to endure 5 months of headlines of meetings of this board about how great a TIF is? Do we want endless meetings of people showing up... Scott, although I like your idea of an SSA, I think you need to get Karl before stating this option in public. So, bottom line is we need to make a motion (I will) to put the public improvement and funding mechanism on the June 15th agenda (not COW) (we decide ahead of time what the 4 of us support and the funding) I don’t want months of brow beating by the developer and a mob of 100 people at each meeting for a TIF.
Ruth F April 06, 2011 at 12:09 AM
I hope everyone got the opportunity to vote. One of my friends pulled up to the polling place and it had just turned 6 59 PM. Doors were locked.
Carla Green April 07, 2011 at 11:10 PM
Mr. Eberhardt, where have you been? Living in Oswego, politics as usual is "guilty until proven innocent" it manifests within our Village and all of the infrastructures associated therewith. And yes, many people (citizens and those of political power) do assume and accuse the wrong parties in the Village. It happens every day.

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