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The Real Reason Why Oak Lawn Village Board Meetings Are Televised

Weighing in on Trustee Cindy Trautsch's proposal to eliminate excessive public service announcements at Oak Lawn Village Board meetings.

I normally do not mix my political views on my blog like I do in Patch articles, but I felt this issue was worth blogging about.

I have been active in village politics for almost 20 years. The first time I went to an Oak Lawn Village Board board meeting at the old Village Hall back in 1993, I was scared out of my mind. Seeing all the village officials on the dias towering above the audience was truly a scary site.

Back then at the old building, the village board had their board table on risers at the old village hall, so they were always a few feet above the audience. They looked like the Supreme Court up there. The first time I stood up to address the board my hands shook as I held my speech in my hand. My throat as dry as a desert. I got through it somehow and learned in time that these officials were nothing to fear (at least in the beginning).

My best friend and I then started to go to all the meetings. We asked some very tough questions of the board majority. I do not think the old board liked it much because we were really steadfast in getting honest answers with them. I was a supporter (still am) of my 3rd District trustee Bob Streit, whom the the rest of the board did not get along with.

Almost every vote was 5-1 back then. The way the Coalition Party majority, the village manager and the late Mayor Ernie Kolb treated Bob and anyone else for that matter who did not agree with them, was abusive and intimidating.  I always wondered why residents did not know what was going on in the village.

During one incident in 1995, they arrested my best friend at a TIF district meeting just for asking a question. Former Village Manager Joe Faber ordered the police to arrest my friend who literally cuffed him in front of the public.

It was after this incident that Bob Streit, a few residents, my friend and I decided that we would ask the board to televise meetings, mainly because residents were afraid to show up and ask legitimate questions for fear of being arrested. The Coalition Majority refused us every time we asked. 

The usual excuses were given: bad lighting, it would cost too much, who would run the equipment etc. Even after the board meetings moved over to the current village auditorium they still used the same excuses.

My friend who got arrested and I even volunteered to take a course in using television equipment at the old cable offices at 106th and Cicero. Still, the answer was no.

After one meeting I asked a trustee why he did not want to televise the village board meetins? He told me straight out, "We don't want people coming here and grandstanding and using the meetings for political gain and using the meetings for something other than Village Business." We would be here until midnight if that happened, the trustee added.

I was outraged, of course, and thought that was just another excuse to stop the people from seeing what was happening. I was so happy when the Unity Party slate -- comprised of current Mayor Dave Heilmann, Clerk Jane Quinlan, and Trustees Tom Phelan and Alex Olejniczak -- was elected in 2005 because they  promised to televise meetings.

Finally residents could see their elected officials in action without having to come to a meeting in person. Of course, there were still some awkward moments in the beginning and some residents tried some stuff right before election time, but a new format was implementing that cut out all of the political grandstanding and allowed residents to three minutes to make public comments on agenda items before the meeting got underway. (I still do not agree with some of those rules, but that is another story for another time.)

Once every one got comfortable with the set up, I noticed how much longer the meetings were going on. There were not as many arguments before the new board came on boad. The agendas  were not overly long but meetings were taking at least 45 minutes to an hour longer.

I then realized this had to be because the meetings were now on government access Ch. 4. Some village board members were, I believe, playing to the cameras during their new business segments, which were turning into infomercials for their local churches and schools raffles, carnivals,fundraisers etc.

It seemed to me that these "public service announcements" had nothing to do with a village business. There were times when the new business segment went over an hour with hardly any village business being discussed between the informercials.

I know that village board members are proud of their local schools and churches and want to help them. There is nothing wrong with this, but a village business meeting is not the place for it. Other schools and churches that don't get the continuous publicity may feel left out because they are never mentioned.

I certainly could get up during public comments and talk about my church's upcoming events and such, but i do not. Personally, I believe in the separation of Church and State and do not want public officials talking about what church they go to and what fundraisers are coming up. That should be done privately,but that's my opinion only.

After another extremely unnecessary, long-winded meeting, the comments from that former trustee came to my mind. Much to my surprise, some of what he said was  correct. I still love that the meetings are on cable TV and the residents can see them, but I agree with Trustee Cindy Trautsch (Dist. 1) that there should be a separate time before the meetings for all of these public service announcements.

By the way these announcements are already being shown on the local public access channel and on the village's website. That way the trustees can use their new business time for important village business, and not for politicking and self- promotion.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Ginger April 26, 2012 at 11:47 PM
I second the motion!
OakLawnGuy April 27, 2012 at 12:03 PM
Originally, the comments were to be held to three minutes per person. After several speakers went off on tangents, the comments were then to be limited to agenda items. (I think this was during the Slinkman era.) I wouldn't object to the meeting opening with public comment if the board agreed to stick to that format, and be diligent about it. I think the proclamations have been a good thing, though. And, to refer to a comment left for another item, if the public is not to promote events, neither should any member of the Board in their individual reports.
Sandra Bury April 27, 2012 at 01:41 PM
I disagree Andy, but you made great points. We don’t need to give our village board of trustees further excuse to disconnect from the community. Many don’t make much effort to go to community meetings and events as it is. To absolve them from any necessity for even talking about these things is wrong. We need a greater connection from our village board of trustees with the community they serve. Pushing community announcements to a designated time - a time the board is not even required to attend - is wrong. It sends a message of dissociation to the board and it sends a message of indifference to the community. This would be very bad for Oak Lawn.
Dave W. April 27, 2012 at 03:55 PM
I understand the general thought behind what you say, Andy. However, nobody else has complained except the new, unelected trustee, who really, it seems, just wants to get home. She doesn't want to sit throught those announcements? Such are the perils of public SERVICE. Again (and again, and again), I've written how the trustees all too often seem to have some misguided belief that we the people are there to help them. They ONLY exist to serve the taxpayers of Oak Lawn. Also, she seems to have set a land-speed record for how FAST she felt entitled to making changes that help HER, and not the people she represents. The article was well-written with only one minor editing miss, Andy. While I do see you point, I disagree with the overall end result you promote. I liked the first part in particular, as it does give people a sense of why it is important that the meetings are open. (As always, I advocate for ALL the meetings to be open ALL the time, but that seems to be wishful thinking at best.) It seems that you, me and OLG are all relative neighbors...small world, in a big town.
andy skoundrianos April 27, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Thanks for all the comments my fellow Oak Lawn residents. I have spoken out in the past to some trustees and the clerk and Mayor about the community service announcements taking up too much time during new business before. I believe Cindy was the first one to bring it up at a board meeting though. I don't think you should attack her for that. Thanks again for taking the time to read my blog bad spelling and all.
Dave W. April 28, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Where you say 'attack', Andy, I say 'disagree with'. The reason she is the first one to bring it up is nobody else, even if THEY want to go home, would ever think of telling the public they're announcements aren't welcome. Because...you know...they're the PUBLIC! It might very well be boring as all get out to sit through those announcements...it doesn't mean they serve no purpose, or that some are more important than others. Heavy is the head, Andy, that wears the crown.
andy skoundrianos April 28, 2012 at 04:32 AM
Dave you are missing my whole point, I am not for getting rid of the announcements. They should have their section just like public comments what's wrong with that?? Also,I am not talking about your comment Dave when I said attack, I was talking about previous posts by other people on the last article on the board meetings. They were pretty nasty to Trustee Trautsch..
Dave W. April 28, 2012 at 04:57 AM
How about instead they have the same 'place' in order of their appearance, but they are limited to two minutes (or even one), no matter if it is you, me or the mayor or a trustee, making the announcement? Once you take them off the Tv portion of the meeting, with no trustees around (and they wouldn't be), they lose the luster. People are proud of their various doings, Andy. Civic pride is one of the most important things a citizen can have or contribute to their town. Moving them diminishes their importance (even if you or I or anyone thinks any particular thing is silly or pointless). We all know the TRUSTEES will still make their announcements, so really, all this would do is take away the platform from the citizenry. These aren't meetings held every day, or even once a week. So they go a little long. Maybe they won't go into 'executive session' as long. Whatever her motivation for wanting to get out earlier, it really doesn't matter. She volunteered to be a trustee. If she didn't know what that entailed, she shouldn't have put herself up for the position. If she did, and went anyway, she shouldn't complain now. If she doesn't like the job now, she can quit anytime. There are plenty more willing to take her place. I'll bet they won't complain about going home early twice a month. If civilians can stay through everything, so can the people that serve them. This is just another silly distraction from what we should all be talking about instead: pudding (kidding).
andy skoundrianos April 30, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Dr. Bury My blog was not to make a trustee's job easier. I agree with everything you said but I think some trustees have taken it a little to far.. Thanks for the comment
Ken Dangman May 04, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Andy didn't you used to work at Walgreens? Why aren't you there anymore? -Adrian Peterson
andy skoundrianos May 04, 2012 at 03:55 AM
left because of my degenerative back condition couldn't stand on my feet all day.

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