Judah Soledad has been quite a presence at Lake County Housing Authority meetings.
He's accused officials of questionable spending since at least April 2010, and of violating the state's Open Meetings Act regarding the use of recording equipment. He also has complained about reputed disparities in staff salaries and pay grades.
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Citing safety concerns about him, the housing authority even hired a Lake County sheriff's deputy to monitor a couple of monthly meetings Soledad attended this year.
There's just one thing: Soledad doesn't exist.
Soledad is Ron Friedman, an elected trustee at Warren-Newport Public Library District in Gurnee. Friedman, whose library term runs to April 2015, has spoken under the Soledad alias seven times in about a year before the housing agency.
Friedman said the Soledad moniker allows him to separate his roles as a library board member and civic activist. He declined to reveal the origin of Judah Soledad but says he's used it as a writer.
"I don't want my role as an elected official at the Warren-Newport Public Library District to affect anybody's perception unnecessarily," said Friedman, who is on the trustee development and finance committees.
However, at least one government watchdog and a political science professor question Friedman's use of a phony name and say it raises questions about his ability to be an elected official.
Cindi Canary, executive director of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said Friedman's bogus identity taints any concerns he's been raising with the housing authority.
"To me, as a complete outsider, it looks clownish," Canary said.
Lake County Housing Authority Executive Director David Northern said Friedman has been on a harassment campaign against him and his agency. Northern contends the actions are linked to the firing of Friedman's wife from a housing authority job in 2010.
Malgorzata Friedman, 41, filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the authority in January, contending that being white and Polish led to problems at her job. She seeks more than $300,000 in damages from the housing agency.
Friedman says his criticism has nothing to do with his wife's suit and denies harassing the housing authority. He said he's just inquiring about the spending of taxpayers' money.
On his most recent visit to the April 21 housing authority meeting, Friedman identified himself as "J. Soledad" before questioning travel spending by Northern and touching on other financial matters.
Friedman didn't take a seat after he finished speaking. He stood clutching a camcorder and taped the meeting for about 30 minutes until the officials went into a closed-door session.
Northern said Friedman's appearances became concerning enough to housing authority officials that a sheriff's deputy was hired to oversee a couple of meetings this year. The agency is headquartered on Route 45 just outside of Grayslake.
"The recent shootings involving school board members in Panama City, Fla., and Congresswoman (Gabrielle) Giffords among other victims in Tucson, Ariz., coupled with concerns from our board members and staff, left us with little alternative but to take steps to best protect those who serve," Northern said.
Friedman griped about the deputy's cost at a February meeting. During a break at last month's meeting, he said the cop tried to intimidate him.
"The first time (the deputy) was there, he stood over me," Friedman said. "I mean, this is a 6-foot, 2-inch guy standing over me with a weapon while I'm kneeling down getting my video thing set up, and he said I have to return to my chair."
Soledad's Open Meetings Act complaint to the Illinois attorney general about a problems he encountered in trying to set up recording equipment at a housing authority meeting led to the adoption of new policy in February. In part, the housing authority policy states the board chairman may designate a recording location, and the agency isn't obligated to provide power for equipment.
Records show the name Soledad has been on 78 document requests or open meetings queries submitted with the housing authority since 2009. The attorney general allows such requests to be submitted anonymously or with bogus names.
Kent Redfield, a veteran political science professor at University of Illinois at Springfield, said he's never heard of an elected official speaking under an assumed name and called it "very bizarre."
Redfield said Friedman can't divorce himself from being a library trustee. Redfield said Friedman should give his real name to the housing authority during public comment and disclose the potential conflict from his wife's lawsuit
"Because you're a public elected official, there is a matter of public trust," Redfield said.
Canary and Redfield agreed elected officials have every right to ask questions of governments they don't represent, provided they don't give fake names in doing so.
Hainesville Trustee Kevin Barrett and Round Lake Trustee Susan Triphahn provided their real names when they criticized the Grayslake Elementary District 46 board at a meeting May 3.
Friedman said he's aware housing authority officials know he's Soledad, and that he'll consider using his given name at meetings. He said his decision depends on whether he starts a blog under the Judah Soledad pseudonym.
"I'm not doing this for me," Friedman said. "I'm not doing this for Ron Friedman. I'm doing this for the people who live in the county of Lake and the people who don't have the time or wherewithal or interest to attend these meetings."