Disregarding the advice of their attorney, Winfield village board members had Trustee Erik Spande physically removed from Thursday night's board meeting before taking a unanimous vote to censure him for "divulging confidential executive session meeting information and betraying the trust of his colleagues."
The scene played out one day after Spande released documents summarizing closed-door discussions trustees had about the possibility of disbanding the Winfield Police Department. The information provided by Spande shows that he and fellow trustees had been talking behind closed doors since June 2011 about the contracting with the DuPage County sheriff's office for police service.
Spande said he made "a moral decision" to go public about the 12 executive sessions.
"If I have to stand and fall on a sword for openness and transparency in government, I'll do that," he said.
But Trustee Tim Allen said the board did nothing wrong by having discussions about police services during executive sessions.
"We were doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing exactly when we were supposed to be doing it," he said.
As for Spande releasing documents related to those private talks, Allen called it "a gross breach of everyone's confidence."
"I don't think he is a hero for it," Allen said. "I think he's the villain."
Spande was supposed to be working with the other trustees, Allen said. Instead, Spande did his best to "submarine" the village board's efforts.
On Thursday night, it was Allen who called for the 4-2 vote that resulted in Spande being expelled from the board meeting. Trustee Jack Bajor and Spande opposed the measure.
The vote was taken even though Village Attorney Kathleen Elliot advised the board that Spande's actions didn't break any laws. She also said that the board's rules don't allow for a trustee to be dismissed from a meeting for something done outside the meeting.
Nevertheless, Spande came to the meeting prepared for such a move. He read a prepared statement.
"This board can eject me from here," he said. "They can censure me. But the bottom line, I'm OK with that. Because I have basically made my point. I have let the people know what we're doing in the darkness."
After the vote, Spande was escorted out of village hall by Police Chief Stacy Reever as supporters shook his hand. He was outside chatting with several residents when the censure vote came.
The remaining board members unanimously agreed to Spande's censure, essentially a public slap on the wrist that carries no further penalties.
While he opposed removing Spande from the meeting, Bajor said the censure was appropriate because he believes executive session talks should be kept private to give trustees the chance "to coalesce our ideas and thoughts" in that setting.
"He did the wrong thing, but maybe for the right reason," Bajor said of Spande.
On Friday, Village President Deborah Birutis said that she was "horrified" by what the board did to punish Spande.
"Their actions in removing Trustee Erik Spande from last night's board meeting was illegal, as trustees once again ignored the village's legal counsel," Birutis said.
Birutis said that the purpose of executive session isn't to protect board members from what they said or did.
"There are certain trustees that have continued to mislead the public regarding what was going on behind closed doors," she said. "As for Trustee Spande, he has an unwavering sense of honesty and integrity."