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posted: 5/20/2012 5:00 AM

Winfield's secret-spilling trustee: Hero or villain?

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Winfield village board member Tim Allen says fellow Trustee Eric Spande is not the hero of this story. "I think he's the villain," Allen said in Saturday's Daily Herald.

Some might beg to differ.

This past week, Spande decided to go public with his concerns about Winfield waging 10 months of closed-door negotiations with DuPage County sheriff's police on it possibly replacing the Winfield Police Department. This is not the first time the issue's come up. About three years ago, we came across such discussions, reported on them and things seemed to die down.

Apparently not. Spande says dismantling one's police force is something the public ought to get to weigh in on before the deal is cast in stone. So he sent an email to the Daily Herald and many others in town, explaining that after some serious soul-searching, he concluded discussing the future of the police department in private "may be legal, but it is not right." He included a 15-page summary on the secret deliberations and 41 pages of documentation.

Spande predicted his move would be controversial, and he was right. Not only was he censured, but the village board in a 4-2 vote called on the police chief to escort him out of the room because of the confidence he had broken with fellow trustees. This came against the advice of the village attorney, who said Spande had broken no laws and couldn't be kicked out of a village board meeting for something he had done outside of it,

Illinois isn't exactly Florida, with its so-called sunshine laws that make much of the public's business public. Here, there are three reasons a public body can discuss business behind closed doors: Litigation, land acquisition and personnel. I'm not sure which of these reasons was applied by the village, but they're such a huge catchall that virtually anything can be discussed in secret.

I'm not here to suggest whether disbanding the Winfield Police Department and replacing it with sheriff's patrols is a good or bad idea; from all we've seen and heard, it certainly appears to be cheaper, but there also seems to be genuine concern about the level of service. What I am going to suggest, though, is that these executive sessions can lead to a level of furtiveness that at best appears downright sneaky.

For instance, according to Spande's notes, the village was contemplating a $32,000 consultant's study to "evaluate police services." But an expenditure of that amount would require a public vote of the village board and no doubt invite some public scrutiny. Closed-door discussion, though, touched on the option of breaking up the consultant's contract into increments of less than $10,000. Approval of those mini-contracts could be done administratively, without a vote of the village board. To their credit, board members ultimately decided to approve the contract in public. But in typical Winfield fashion, bickering ensued behind those closed doors on who would be the point person for the board when the inevitable questions arose.

No one would argue that the matter of replacing one's police department isn't a hugely sensitive matter. No question some of the details about people's livelihoods, their performance and cost are going to be sticky. But what's the alternative to having some public discussion on the matter: Provide yet another -- and suburban -- example of how the Chicago area is home to never-ending backroom deals?

Erik Spande wore his best suit to the Thursday night Winfield village board meeting in anticipation of his ostracization. He shook hands and talked to supporters as he was escorted from the boardroom.

Looking very much like a hero.

jdavis@dailyherald.com

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