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.