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.

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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