Debbie Herrmann, Charles Amrich suggest ways to improve transparency at Island Lake village hall

Editor’s note: Plans call for a new municipal building to go on land adjoining Water Tower Park. Additionally, the candidates shared six ideas about improving transparency during the interview.

By Russell Lissau

One of Island Lake’s mayoral candidates thinks officials can improve government transparency by videotaping meetings, while the other believes creating a questionnaire for residents is a good way to go.

Incumbent Debbie Herrmann and challenger Charles Amrich discussed transparency and other issues Tuesday in a joint endorsement interview at the Daily Herald’s Libertyville office.

Local critics — particularly Amrich’s political allies and supporters — regularly complain village officials haven’t been open enough with residents about some projects. Plans to build a new municipal building on land adjoining Water Tower Park and a recent decision to outsource the police dispatch service have been prime targets.

The Daily Herald asked Amrich and Herrmann to name three things that should be done to improve transparency in village government. The candidates put forth ideas that were distinct from their opponent’s suggestions.

Herrmann, the mayor since 2009, said she’s noticed some people filing separate Freedom of Information Act requests for the same information. She suggested posting FOIA requests and the complete responses on the village’s website as a way to share information with the public and prevent staffers from repeating their work.

“If three people are asking for the same information or variations of the same information, they could view the website and see what FOIA requests have been made,” Herrmann said.

The effort would be cost-effective and save the village clerk time, she said.

She also voiced strong support for videotaping board meetings. Recent updates to the village’s computer infrastructure make sharing such videos on the village’s website possible, she said.

Herrmann acknowledged Trustee Laurie Rabattini regularly taped meetings for a while and posted them on a website she created.

“It was being done, and residents that wanted to see the meeting could,” she said.

Finally, Herrmann suggested turning the village’s newsletter — now printed three times a year — into a monthly electronic publication distributed via email. The electronic blasts could include news about the town, agendas for meetings and other content.

Amrich, who was the town’s mayor from 1985 to 2005, is a fan of the print newsletter. He suggested a questionnaire be included in a future issue that asks people about their concerns.

“We need that feedback from residents,” he said.

Amrich also called for the official summaries of village board meetings, called minutes, to be published on the website more quickly.

“I don’t think they’re always (posted) in a timely fashion,” he said.

“They should be put up immediately when they’re approved by the board.”

The village is under no legal obligation to put minutes online because the website isn’t maintained by a full-time employee, but they typically are posted for public review. At various times during Herrmann’s tenure, the minutes have fallen months behind.

They’re up to date now, she pointed out.

As for a third idea, Amrich said people should be encouraged to get involved by joining public committees or commissions. If more people participate in government, he said, they’ll know more about what it takes to run the village and will tell their neighbors what’s going on.

“Our best resource are our residents,” he said.

“The more people you get involved in government, the better.”

Herrmann responded by saying the village’s various committees are fully staffed. People can apply for openings as they arise or let officials know they’re interesting in serving, she said.

Amrich and Herrmann fielded questions for more than an hour. The vitriol that has marred the campaign and recent village board meetings was absent from the session.

The candidates were cordial and rarely challenged comments made by each other.

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