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State's Attorney Says Library Board Violated Open Meetings Act

Review finds 11 of 19 executive sessions violated the act.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office is investigating what it says are violations of the Illinois Open Meetings Act by the previous Morton Grove Library board. If the violations were intentional, they could constitute criminal violations of the act.

The current board requested the review. The office found that 11 of 19 executive sessions conducted from Dec. 10, 2009 to April 14, 2011 violated the Open Meetings Act. Several of the recordings of those meetings are damaged or missing in entirety. The details of the violations were noted in an Aug. 2 letter from Assistant State's Attorney Sara Hynes to Library Board Treasurer Catherine Peters.

Patch received a copy of the letter, and verified its authenticity with the state's attorney's office. 

“In particular, the Library Board failed to keep detailed written minutes required by section 2.06(a) of the act, and also failed to keep a verbatim record of all their closed meetings by means of audio or video recording, also required by that section,” the letter said. “We note that these violations took place during the administration of the previous library board, which was reconstituted with new membership following the April 5, 2011 consolidated election.”

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The office decided against pursuing civil action, the letter said, because the current board showed through “comprehensive reporting of the past closed session violations,” that it is “taking positive steps to remedy the past violations.”

However, Hynes wrote that she is forwarding the issue to the office's public integrity unit to see if the violations were intentional and thus potentially criminal.

The letter addressed references concerns raised by members of the current board about possible intentional violation of the act by members of the previous board.

“This conduct could give rise to a criminal violation of the act, as well as violation of the criminal code,” Hynes wrote, explaining that the public integrity unit would look into it.

In the meantime, the letter recommends that the board obtain Open Meeting Act training materials. However Peters said that, “it was not lack of training” that caused the violations by the previous library board.

“They were fully aware of their duty under the law regarding the tapes,” she said.

Previous board members defend efforts to tape the meetings

Dan Hoffman was the previous library board’s secretary and served the same role for the current board before stepping down shortly after voting against a successful motion in July to procure a separation agreement with former executive director Ben Schapiro.

“I have no explanation for why the tapes weren't there,” Hoffman said.

He said he was under the impression that “all of our executive session meetings were taped.”

“Whether [the recorder] records or not isn’t known until after the meeting is over,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said the recently elected B-PAC members of the board were the main drivers behind requesting the state’s attorney’s review. B-PAC refers to four board members voted into office in April; it’s an acronym of the last names of Paul Berg, Catherine Peters, Albers and David Calimag.

Hoffman said the whole situation is a case of B-PAC “looking for that smoking gun” to show some wrongdoing on the part of the previous board.

“I can guarantee you it’s not there,” said Hoffman, who was in charge of recording meetings in his role as secretary.

B-PAC members “are being accusatory and vengeful,” he said, adding that the damaged and missing recordings could be due to “bad batteries” or some other equipment malfunction.

Board member Art Goldstein was also part of the previous board and said he was “astonished” at hearing news of the missing executive session recordings.

“They were all recorded as far as I was concerned. And they were kept in a locked cabinet. And I cannot imagine how they were lost,” he said. “Because nothing was ever said in there that wasn’t reported afterwards.”

Hoffman maintains that there was nothing discussed in those missing sessions that would have shown any wrongdoing, and pointed out that written minutes were still produced.

“Nothing’s happened at this library in the last 75 years that tapes would have to be missing,” he said.

As the state’s attorney’s office continues its probe, Peters assured Patch that the current board won’t repeat history when it comes to abiding by the Open Meetings Act.

“We are committed to making sure everything is done by the book,” she said.

Executive session tapes released

On July 14 the library board released executive session tapes from Oct. 12, 2010, and Nov. 11, 2010, causing a stir, as executive session tapes are not typically released to the public. The tapes are available at the Morton Grove Public Library.

The Oct. 12 recording features a discussion exploring potential avenues for funding the construction of a new library building. The Local Library Act states that building plans have to be approved by the village, and that the village must be asked to issue bonds to finance the construction. Approval would hinge on a public referendum. However, in the recording, the board talks about obtaining a debt certificate to potentially bypass community input. This measure provides a way to raise the library’s tax levy over the course of several years to pay for a new building.

“The blowback is a couple of you may lose your seats,” said a voice in that recording, apparently former director Ben Schapiro. “But it will already be a done deal at that point.”

Hoffman alleged that the current board, specifically B-PAC members, are trying to prove that the former board sought to take the public out of the conversation — even though discussions were merely speculative.

He said that it’s a “perfectly legit and legal option,” but an option the board decided against because it appeared “shady.”

Nevertheless, “that’s what facilitated the removal of our director,” Hoffman said.

Asked why he thinks the tapes were released, Goldstein said, “I’d be guessing.”

“I really don’t know,” he said.

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Laura Frisch August 30, 2011 at 09:36 PM
"it is not in their power to pursue any investigation," this is not true, that is exactly what Catherine Peters and Mark Albers did by reporting these items to the States Attorney and the Attorney General, who both sent letters in reply saying that they were not doing any further investigation of the OMA violations. The States Attorney sent the information along to another office to further investigate. There is not a criminal case being prosecuted as you insinuate. Please keep your comments to the facts and off color remarks are not appreciated. Further more, the current board was warned that THEY should educate themselves on OMA statutes and further their education on the subject. That is what was recommended for action.
Pat Craig August 31, 2011 at 12:36 PM
The lady protesteth too much, methinks, (and rewrites history in the process). Redirection, muddying the waters and faux outrage at flatus references fail to change the facts. Elected officials have an affirmative duty to report violations of ethics laws. By self-reporting the new board honored the trust placed in them by the electorate. Your statement that the States Attorney sent the information TO ANOTHER OFFICE is in error the Public corruption division is part of the States Attorneys office.. The State's Attorney of Cook County is responsible for prosecuting all individuals charged with violating Illinois' criminal laws within the county. The Special Prosecutions Bureau, (which is where the information was referred), INVESTIGATES PUBLIC CORRUPTION. They DO, in fact conduct criminal investigations, and, when warranted, prosecute. Further, I did not insinuate anything. Let me repeat what I DID say; "The prosecution OR LACK THEREOF now rests in the hands of the Cook County State's Attorney and the Illinois Attorney General. That too is a FACT, not a conjecture or insinuation. It is up to the Public Corruption and Financial Crimes Unit of the Cook County States Attorney to investigate and determine what, if any, further action is to be taken. I hope they do their job swiftly and prosecute or vindicate as appropriate.
Pat Craig September 01, 2011 at 03:54 PM
In the September 1, 2011 issue of the Bugle there is a story entitled "Library-gate: Morton Grove Library Board Releases Controversial Recordings. http://www.buglenewspapers.com/niles/article_4b6b9884-d38a-11e0-a94f-001a4bcf6878.html In the story, trustee Hoffman, who was board secretary at the time the recordings were made said the duties were limited and nobody ever had a need to review executive session tapes, so there was never an indication of error. Apparently Mr. Hoffman never read the duties of the secretary, (which are available on the library website http://www.webrary.org/inside/libraryboard.html under "bylaws": It shall be the duty of the Secretary to call roll at meetings of the Library Board. And in conjunction with the Director, to record the proceedings of the Library Board; to give notice of all regular and special meetings; to send a copy of the previous month’s proceedings to each Board member at least one day before the regular meeting; to handle any necessary correspondence; to sign documents; to be responsible for the custody of official records and correspondence and maintain them on the Library premises; and to perform such other duties as the Board may direct. In the absence of the Secretary, the President or presiding officer shall appoint one of the Trustees present as Secretary pro tem. No matter if the failure to perform was due to incompetence or malfeasance, Mr. Hoffman needs to resign.
Blake R. September 01, 2011 at 05:04 PM
Thank you, Mr. Kansoer, for pointing me to the Bugle article. It is enlightening as to the attitude of the members of the old library board who remain. When combined with the statements in the Patch article, it shows a tremendous sense of denial about their misdeeds. First, they say that the new members are “vengeful”. Vengeance is usually something that losers do, not winners. And since the B-PAC members all won, I would not say that they are vengeful. They are bringing to light what went on in the very recent past. Mr. Hoffman states in the Bugle article that if the members had said “Let’s rob a bank to pay for the new library” that that would be held against them. No, Mr. Hoffman. It is not a single statement edited out of the meeting that is being put forth. It is YOUR plan to raise the tax levy by $400,000 more than you needed and do that every year for four years so that you would have more than a million dollars taken from the taxpayers of Morton Grove to fund the debt certificate to build your new building. (Continued in my next post.)
Blake R. September 01, 2011 at 05:05 PM
So, if I understand this right, the library submitted a false budget for the tax levy that the Village Board had no choice but to pass, so that the residents of Morton Grove will pay more on their taxes than they needed to, and will continue to do so. And the treasurer of that board, Mr. Goldstein who is also still on the board approved this false budget. And yet YOUR board did nothing wrong? Two of your board members in a non-executive session line of commentary discussed making the current patrons miserable. Not because it was necessary, but because it would further your agenda. These are the people who felt so passionate about the library that they forgot about the patrons. It’s time for both of you to turn in your resignations. To put this in terms that you apparently understand, I know you do not want to quit, but sometimes people need to feel the pain…to be miserable.

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