For the second time in five months, the Winfield village board has been chastised by the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office for violating the Open Meetings Act.
The state’s attorney’s office has been monitoring the board’s actions since it determined in September that village trustees violated the law during an Aug. 23 executive session.
Now in a letter to Village President Deborah Birutis, First Assistant State’s Attorney Nancy Wolfe said another violation may have happened during a Dec. 6 meeting, when the board voted to rezone two properties that house a gasoline station and a fire station. The vote took place even though the issue wasn’t on the board agenda.
“All items the board anticipates discussing should be included on the agenda,” Wolfe wrote. “New items may be raised, but if they are known about in advance, the item must be placed on the agenda.
“Even if a new item, not anticipated, is considered,” Wolfe added, “a board can only discuss, but cannot take any action until proper public notice has been made.”
Trustee Tim Allen said the rezoning issue wasn’t on the agenda because Birutis refused to put it there. He said he and other trustees have had several previous disagreements with Birutis about the creation of meeting agendas.
“The state’s attorney doesn’t know about that back story,” Allen said. “They don’t know that we were screaming in the background, ‘Put this on the agenda.’”
A phone call to Birutis wasn’t immediately returned.
But Trustee Erik Spande, one of Birutis’ political allies, said the rezoning issue couldn’t appear on the Dec. 6 agenda because a similar vote already had failed a month earlier.
“For this particular type of rezoning, village code is clear,” Spande said. “You can only reconsider during the meeting where the vote occurs. So you can’t consider it during a later meeting.”
Allen disagrees with that interpretation of village law. He and three other trustees supported the rezoning. Spande and Trustee Jack Bajor cast the only “no” votes.
Despite what happened, the state’s attorney’s office didn’t take any action against the board, but recommended “diligent compliance with the spirit and the letter of the law.”
“Thus far we have given the board some deference because of the unique facts,” Wolfe wrote, adding future acts “may be considered as part of a pattern of intentional and repeated behavior inconsistent with the Open Meetings Act.”
In the meantime, the state’s attorney’s office will continue reviewing notices, agendas and minutes for future Winfield village board meetings.
Spande said another violation may have happened during last week’s meeting. It’s not yet clear whether the state’s attorney will examine that claim.
“You wonder how many flagrant violations of the Open Meetings Act do we get,” Spande said. “At some point, the state’s attorney is going to say, ‘That’s enough free passes.’”
To avoid future problems, Allen said Birutis and her supporters must let other trustees on the board address topics they want discussed.
“They’re not making life easy on us,” Allen said. “If they would just print the agendas we’re asking them to print, it would help. But that’s not their goal.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.