The way Winfield village board members conduct their meetings will be scrutinized for the next six months after the DuPage County state's attorney's office determined the board violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
In a recent letter to Village President Deborah Birutis, Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Smith said the violation happened when the village board had a conversation about a lawsuit during an Aug. 23 executive session held "for the purpose of discussing employment matters."
"While some latitude is given to discuss matters that are germane to the primary topic which was to be considered in the closed session," Smith wrote, "it seems that the discussion in this case went beyond that scope."
The closed-door session was held after two Winfield police officers filed a federal lawsuit against the village and police Chief Stacy Reever claiming Reever tried to "interrogate" them. That lawsuit, originally filed by the Metropolitan Alliance of Police on behalf of Sgt. Joseph Grimaldi and officer Scott Miara, eventually was dropped as part of a settlement agreement.
It turns out the basis of the settlement agreement was decided by a majority of trustees during the Aug. 23 closed session. They instructed Reever to abandon her effort to question Grimaldi and Miara about a plan to downsize the force.
But Village Attorney David Freeman indicated in an Aug. 27 memorandum to Birutis that the board shouldn't have directed staff to settle the lawsuit during the executive session.
"In the future, all topics to be discussed in closed session need to be included in the motion to enter closed session," Freeman wrote.
Several trustees say that's not the advice Freeman gave the board during the Aug. 23 executive session.
"Our attorney supported us going into executive session and then to have the discussion on the lawsuit as part of the (personnel matter)," Trustee Jay Olson said.
Because he and other board members aren't lawyers, Trustee Tim Allen says the best they can do is rely on the village attorney to "get it right the first time."
"If the agenda had been written correctly, we would be fine," Allen wrote in an email. "If the lawyer's advice had been correct, we would have been fine."
Despite the violation, the state's attorney's office has decided there's "little purpose to be served in litigating the propriety of the executive session," according to Smith.
"We believe that an injunction is unnecessary given the fact that you (Birutis) have already discussed this matter with counsel immediately following the meeting," Smith wrote.
Instead, the state's attorney's office will review notices, agendas and minutes for future board meetings for six months.
While the village board avoided a harsher penalty, Trustee Erik Spande called the Open Meetings Act violation "yet another embarrassment for our village."
"I think we got a free pass because it's the first known offense," said Spande, who cast the only "no" vote against going into the closed session on Aug. 23. Trustee Tony Reyes was absent that night.
Spande said he welcomes the oversight from the state's attorney's office. He said, "I am glad the Winfield board will be getting some adult supervision for the next six months."