Is Mundelein village hall transparent enough? Mayoral candidates weigh in
The four candidates for mayor in Mundelein have differing opinions about whether there's enough transparency in local government.
Touting website overhauls and other efforts, incumbent Steve Lentz said village staffers and elected officials are doing a great job communicating with residents.
In contrast, candidates Robin Meier and Tom Ouimet said too much government work is being done behind the scenes and not in open meetings, while candidate Dawn Abernathy complained about being shut out by Lentz despite her position as a village trustee. Meier is a trustee, too.
Lentz, Meier, Abernathy and Ouimet face off in the April 6 election. They spoke about transparency and communication in a joint interview with the Daily Herald.
Lentz, the mayor since 2013, proudly noted that the official village website, mundelein.org, was revamped in 2014, leading to a Sunshine Award for government transparency from the Illinois Policy Institute the same year. The site was overhauled again last year.
"All the information that the trustees get to make decisions (is) available to our residents," Lentz said.
Additionally, archived videos of board meetings are indexed to agenda items, Lentz said, making for easier viewing.
"Everything we're doing is very public," he said.
Lentz also praised Village Administrator Eric Guenther for providing weekly, detailed updates about activity in each department to the board.
Still, Lentz said village officials could do more to promote agendas for upcoming meetings on social media.
Meier said officials should have more discussions about issues during board meetings and fewer when the public isn't watching.
"That's critical," said Meier, who served as trustee from 2008 to 2015 and rejoined the board in 2017. "I think there's too much discussion behind the scenes."
Meier called for live broadcasts of committee and commission meetings, not just board meetings. She also wants annual public surveys to determine how well residents think officials are doing their jobs.
"I think we're doing some things well, but I think communication with the residents and businesses isn't as good as it could be," she said.
Meier favors holding more town hall meetings to discuss projects, too.
Ouimet called transparency "a trust issue" that's critical in government. If people feel the board needs to be more transparent, he said, the trustees and mayor need to discuss the issue.
If any trustees feel the board isn't being transparent, trust has broken down, Ouimet said.
"And that then diffuses into the community," said Ouimet, a Mundelein High School District 120 board member since 2017. "And then now the community has a lack of trust."
Ouimet liked the idea of surveying residents about their level of trust in village hall. "If it's low, then I would focus on that," he said.
Ouimet said there is a perception that trustees aren't working well together. Overall, however, Ouimet said he believes officials are "doing a fine job" communicating with residents.
Abernathy was critical of communication levels and transparency at village hall. She accused Lentz of not speaking with her privately about village issues for the past year, ever since she and other trustees voted to end a 5-year-old ban on pole and cabinet-style wall signs -- a ban Lentz had championed.
"If we don't do what the mayor wants and rubber-stamp his ideas, then you're pretty much ostracized," said Abernathy, a trustee since 2013.
As for ensuring openness with residents, Abernathy called for quarterly town hall meetings, an educational series about how village services work and other measures. Abernathy praised Lentz for meeting residents once a month at a local restaurant to discuss whatever issues are on their minds. That long-running program is on hiatus because of the pandemic, but Lentz would like it to return when it's safe to do so.