Lincolnshire didn't ask own attorney about anti-union plan

Lincolnshire officials approved a controversial right-to-work ordinance that's been called illegal by Attorney General Lisa Madigan without first getting an opinion from their own attorney, village emails indicate.

When Village Manager Brad Burke specifically asked Mayor Elizabeth Brandt and the trustees in late November if they wanted an opinion on the proposal from attorney Adam Simon, nearly everyone declined. The strongest response came from Brandt, who had brought the plan to the board.

"I had already expressed that I did not want an opinion from Adam ... and do not want to over react to a threat of litigation," Brandt wrote in a Nov. 30 email to Burke.

Brandt also said she thought Madigan's opinion on the right-to-work issue "was weak."

"I don't think the village board should be intimidated by a threat of litigation," Brandt said. "We can be sued at any time for almost anything."

The proposal at the heart of the debate allows employees at private-sector companies in Lincolnshire to refuse to have union dues or fees automatically deducted from their paychecks. It was publicly unveiled in late November and approved by the village board Monday night, despite overwhelming opposition from the audience at the evening's board meeting and lingering questions about its legality.

The 5-1 vote made Lincolnshire the first town in the Chicago area to create a right-to-work zone. Trustee Mara Grajanic was the only dissenter.

The proposal was a major tenet of Gov. Bruce Rauner's controversial Turnaround Agenda for Illinois, which many people have blasted as being anti-union and illegal. He called them "employee empowerment zones" and said they'd give people more local control of their lives.

In a formal opinion issued in March, Madigan said federal labor law allows such policies to be enacted only on a statewide basis.

Burke asked Lincolnshire's trustees and mayor if they wanted an opinion from Simon on the legality of the proposal after a Nov. 28 Daily Herald story about the proposal.

"Staff requests Village Board feedback to determine if there is consensus to direct Attorney Simon to provide an opinion/analysis on the Village's authority to pass such an ordinance," Burke wrote in a Nov. 30 email. "Please email me and let me know whether or not you would like an opinion/analysis prepared by (the attorney)."

Burke's email and the responses from the mayor and trustees are considered public records and were subsequently acquired by the Daily Herald.

Mark Hancock was the only trustee who said he wanted to hear from Simon. "Yes, I would require Adam's opinion," Hancock told Burke in a Nov. 30 email.

Trustee Dan Servi declined the opportunity to get an opinion from Simon. "I don't think we need it yet," Servi wrote in a Nov. 30 email. "Let's see how things play out."

Trustee Gerald Leider took a similar stance. "I do not think it is necessary to get a second opinion at this time. Additionally we should not incur any additional expense," Leider said in an email to Burke.

Trustee Karen Feldman's response was brief, too. "I don't need Adam to weigh in on this anymore than he had already," she wrote Nov. 30.

Trustee Tom McDonough said he had "no desire" to hear Simon's legal opinion of the proposal. "Lisa Madigan has not given me an opinion so I will await her call," McDonough wrote.

Simon acknowledged the trustees' stances in a Dec. 1 email, telling Burke, "I guess the consensus is for us to do no work on this issue."

On Tuesday, Burke confirmed the board never asked for Simon's opinion on the right-to-work plan, nor did he provide one on his own.

Simon couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

When the Daily Herald sought Simon's opinion for the Nov. 28 story, he said village officials were relying on analysis provided by the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit group that has championed right-to-work legislation. That group created a model ordinance that was the basis of Lincolnshire's proposal. It also has warned municipalities to prepare for court challenges.

When reached via email Tuesday, Brandt noted the Liberty Justice Center - a group associated with the Illinois Policy Institute - will provide free legal counsel if the ordinance is challenged.

Lincolnshire was among the few towns in the North or Northwest suburbs to endorse Rauner's overall Turnaround Agenda after he lobbied for it across the state earlier this year. Most communities rejected the agenda - which also calls for minimum wage reform, tax freezes, political term limits, lawsuit reforms and other changes - or ignored it.

Officials in several suburbs said the issues should be addressed in the state Capitol, not village boardrooms.

A spokeswoman for Madigan's office declined to comment on Lincolnshire's decision.

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