Three Buffalo Grove village trustees seeking re-election next month have withdrawn from a scheduled candidates forum this week, saying the village attorney warned them their presence would violate the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
However, the Illinois attorney general’s office said Tuesday that, in general, a forum in which political candidates discuss their backgrounds and positions on village issues would not constitute a violation of the state law, which is meant to ensure that public bodies conduct their business in the open.
“In general, the Open Meetings Act focuses on deliberative discussion of public business,” said Natalie Bauer, communications director for the Illinois attorney general.
“If a forum is limited to the trustees discussing their qualifications and platforms, and doesn’t include specific deliberative discussion among the three trustees involving current business before the board, we don’t feel that would fall under the Open Meetings Act,” she said.
The three incumbent trustees seeking re-election April 9 — Beverly Sussman, Andrew Stein and Lester Ottenheimer III — were expected to attend the forum Thursday night hosted by Save Buffalo Grove. The group was created in opposition to a proposed $320 million development that would create a “downtown” Buffalo Grove featuring three residential towers and large amounts of retail and office space on the site of the Buffalo Grove Golf Club.
While initially the lead organizer said the event would be canceled, after further discussion, the group has decided to proceed with the forum at 7 p.m. at Village Tavern and Grill, 48 Raupp Blvd., even though only write-in candidate Jeff Battinus will be attending.
In pulling out of the forum, the trustees cited Village Attorney William Raysa’s opinion that their gathering at the forum would violate the Illinois Open Meetings Act. Village President Jeffrey Braiman said he sought Raysa’s opinion after Sussman approached him with concerns.
All three trustees said they were willing to participate in the forum but wouldn’t violate the law to do so.
“As trustees especially, we have to uphold the law,” Ottenheimer said.
“I just want to be in compliance with the law and not violate the Open Meetings Act,” Stein said.
Sussman said she had been looking forward to the event and had worked with its organizer, Save Buffalo Grove steering committee member Leon Gopon, during the preparation.
“He did a very nice job on it,” she said. “The way it was supposed to be would have worked out very nicely for the residents who were coming.”
Battinus said he doubted that calling it off the event was necessary.
“The Open Meetings Act only applies (to) elected officials getting together to discuss village business,” he said. “These are candidates showing up at a candidate forum. They’re not showing up as village trustees. We’re not discussing village business. We’re discussing important issues facing the village.”
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