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THE BLADE: Oak Lawn Legal Investigation Through the Ages

Sensationalist commentary written by a real person who lives here.

I know this will come as a shock to many of you, but thehas denied my freedom of information act request for

You know which report I’m talking about: the reinvestigation of the investigation of the former village attorney now known as Tressler LLP,

The report that and were promised they’d get to read after the last “i” was dotted and “t” crossed.

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Tressler was fired as the village attorney in September 2009 after some Oak Lawn trustees expressed concern when the village’s legal fees tripled—even though they had approved paying those bills.

Unfortunately for residents was hammered out as part of the terms in accepting a $500,000 settlement from the former village attorney—which the Oak Lawn Village Board also unanimously approved.

With all the lately, Patch thought it would be helpful to bring everyone up to speed by revisiting some past stories:

Trustee Bob Streit (Dist. 3), sharing his thoughts after hearing the Odelson Report in executive session in April 2011: “In my 20 years on the board, I have never seen anything like it. It’s worse than I expected. Clearly evidence was presented in the report that indicated a misrepresentation by the law firm and gross mismanagement of the legal team that went to the highest level of village government.”

Mayor Dave Heilmann, responding to charges that he had dragged his feet in firing Tressler because “he had friends there”: “I do know a guy at Tressler. I’ve known him my whole life. He’s someone I talk to every five years.”

Trustee Streit on the “gross mismanagement” of the village legal team from 2005 to 2009: “I think they already know that the mayor brought in his friends to serve as lawyers for the village. Unfortunately, the taxpayers paid dearly for it.”

Mayor Heilmann, answering why he didn’t show up at the special board meeting to review the Odelson Report in April 2011: “I spoke to [Trustee] Carol Quinlan, and my understanding is that it was an all-out attack on me. All this is are trustees using Burt Odelson to attack the mayor, which is an illegal use of public funds.”

About all we know about the Godfrey and Kahn report is that it’s four inches thick. It contains who is described as the “gatekeeper” to the alleged Tressler money train. A person that the mayor said was exonerated of misconduct by Godfrey and Kahn, yet still appears in the final report in an unflattering light.

Trustee Tom Phelan (Dist. 6) offers a glimpse of the legal report in his July 10 constituents’ newsletter (put me back on your list, bro).

Phelan attributes “duplicate and erroneous” payments to Tressler that resulted in $2,359,083 in underreported legal fees over a period of years which were spread across residents’ property taxes.

“These are the same board members who have been fighting since the [April 2012] settlement to prevent the attorneys who did the investigation from completing a report of their findings for the Board," Phelan says in his newsletter, "… who out of spite and retribution, instead … that I have been intimately involved with since first being elected in 2005.”

The mayor says that he “personally has no apprehension” of anything that might be said about him in the report. Other village board members are free to call Godfrey and Kahn and “ask questions.”

“I never heard of a situation where after a case has settled spending thousands of dollars for someone to prepare a report that is of no benefit or seeking a claim against anyone,” Heilmann said, a practicing attorney. “For some mysterious reason [Godfrey and Kahn] is doing up another report up of up to $25,000.”

“You have a fraternity brother of a village board member preparing the report,” the mayor continued. “Anything prepared there’s going to be questions.”

DJ Sartorio, managing partner at Tressler LLP, would not answer questions on the advice of the firm’s counsel on whether Tressler was in control of FOIA requests, or if all this talk of “duplicate and erroneous payments” and “observations” violated the confidentiality agreement.

when the allegations of malpractice and overbillings in the Odelson Report “came out of left field for us.”

“As much as we’re caught in the middle, we actually feel that citizens of Oak Lawn are caught in the middle too,” Sartorio told Patch last year. “That’s particularly unfortunate because they are very good people.”

If that’s the case, than why can’t the Oak Lawn taxpayers read the report?

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Dave W. July 19, 2012 at 02:42 AM
The only dispute I would have with this would not be the wate of money if you are right and it really costs $20,ooo to do the audit...my concern is that if..BIG IF, but if somebody, anybody did stuff wrong, they should be fired, or elected to office, we the taxpayers should know about it so we have the option of UNelecting them. Because IF they are guilty of doing this stuff, (whatever it MIGHT turn out to be), who knows the actual cost to us, the Oak Lawn taxpayer? What if it is $10,ooo a year? Over five, six, eight years? More than covers an audit, and bad people are exposed and possibly out of office. Of course, if nothing is found, we might feel a little ripped, but really, $20,ooo to know that we AREN'T being pillaged would almost be a relief in this town at this point.
andy skoundrianos July 19, 2012 at 02:50 AM
QC, Tressler was the one who issued the opinions denying the FOIA requests.. You know that. I believe the mayor already violated the agreement by talking about the report on the patch before the report was even given to officials.. By the way any person mentioned in the Godefrey and Kahn report in a negative way got a chance to see the report, before the village board,that's why the mayor saw it first..
Sandra Bury July 19, 2012 at 09:41 AM
Fred: If you read the confidentiality agreement (find it on Patch) you will see the stated purpose for it is "to prevent the release of false or misleading information." A child can tell you the best way to do that is not to keep the truth hidden, but to make it visible, on public record and in writing. The worst way to do that is to keep it hidden. Don't forget Fred, your elected officials work for you. Or should work for you. They are representing you. You are footing the bills. You are part of the equation. They cannot lock you out. Any business arrangement or use of taxpayer dollars should be transparent to you. This is what the Freedom of Information Act is founded on, and it is a wonderful thing. This gives you the taxpayer the tools you need to make the best decisions when you do your civic duty and vote. With free access to information, the citizens can do their job. Cut off access to this type of information and you as a voter are deprived of essential facts you need. If the board should petition Tressler to release it, and Tressler concurs, there should be no fees if all parties agree. I'll give Mayor Heilmann the benefit of the doubt for a moment and assume he didn't realize how this would inflame the residents of Oak Lawn. If that was the case and he truly cares, he still has an opportunity to do the right thing and petition for the immediate release of this report. Again, does he have the character to do what is right for Oak Lawn?
Sandra Bury July 19, 2012 at 09:48 AM
QC: Clerk Jane Quinlan is a FOIA officer from Oak Lawn. Her duty is to make sure that responses are received, heard and processed. She does that perfectly, as do the other FOIA officers at Village Hall. The decisions on the FOIA requests come from either village attorneys or, in this case, Tressler. As far as your comment that you can juggle numbers and have them say anything, releasing the report will remove any speculation from people's minds. The report will see light of day.
Sandra Bury July 19, 2012 at 10:20 AM
Oh and one more thing. Mayor Heilmann is quoted above as saying: "“I never heard of a situation where after a case has settled spending thousands of dollars for someone to prepare a report that is of no benefit or seeking a claim against anyone... For some mysterious reason [Godfrey and Kahn] is doing up another report up of up to $25,000.” Mysterious reason? Mayor Heilmann that report and its presentation in executive session was agreed to by all parties in the settlement agreement. It's in writing. You are not being truthful when you appear surprised by this. What you should be truthful about also is how you appear have worked non-stop to conceal the report from the public, delay the presentation of the report as contractually agreed by all parties and now try to spin it as some new expense to sway public opinion. You are losing your moral authority to lead this community Mayor Heilmann. Exactly whose interests do you represent? The taxpayers who elected you or the interests of you and your friends? The report will be known and seen by all.
Sandra Bury July 19, 2012 at 10:25 AM
JR: I am fighting this FOIA denial to the fullest extent of the law and the people will win.
BUZZ LIGHTYEAR July 19, 2012 at 12:33 PM
TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!!!!
wate of money July 19, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Dave W: really you'd spend 20k on a big "IF" to check a "wate of money "????Easy to authorize spending in 20k if the money isn't yours. You really should be elected to something since you have no qualms about spending.
District 666 Resident July 19, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Sandra, You asked why I am supportive of a confidentiality agreement. When did I say I support such an agreeement? The village entered into the agreement and I am for the village keeping its word and not acting like a spoiled child and "changing" its collective mind. We've elected these people and they voted to keep the report confidential. How do you square the idea of wasting another $50,000 on top of the $430,000 spent on the frat boy report? Furthermore you site the number ($2,359,032.00) as being "misspent". The village settled for $500,000 so that ship of made up claims has sailed long ago. If the village could confidently push its claim for that amount forward, it would have but it chose to settle for a reasonable number. By the way, I thought Phelan once said it was $15 million. Are you now in agreement that he isn't good with numbers?
Grunty July 19, 2012 at 03:06 PM
What does everyone expect to find hidden in this report? If anything at all, it shows that there was incorrect billing by the former legal firm and its specfics, however it is not going to say something like "The mayor told us to overbill the village" or something like that. There is nothing to continue to spend our energy on here. Frankly, let me ask this question of all of you: If the report is released, and it paints the mayor as having absolutely nothing to do with the overbilling, will any of you that dislike the mayor suddenly change your position on him? No you will all still contend that its all his fault and they hid something from us. If the report is released and it shows that the mayor did infact have something to do with the overbilling, are you suddenly going to hate him more? Do any of you think that the people that support the mayor will suddenly start disliking him? Anyone who already supports the mayor and pays attention to this sort of stuff will just explain away the issue as political pandering. Nothing changes by getting our hands on this report other then another legal battle or depending on what is written in the settlement, a fine that reverses the entire settlement and causes the village to end up paying a fine for damages or some crap like that.
OakLawnGuy July 19, 2012 at 03:28 PM
I can pretty much tell from the comments what people expect to find. What I would expect are items that are not going to reflect positive light on several members of the Board, if not each and every one of them. I find it a little unfair to target only Mr. Heilmann as "The Crook" in all of this; commenters can hammer any of the officials regarding the release of the report but choose to zero in on The Mayor. Well, then again, that says what those commenters expect to find. Anyway, I'm far from an expert on FOIA and the process itself as it relates to this report, and the efforts to get it release, make the whole situation curiouser and curiouser. So - now I'm curious.
Sandra Bury July 19, 2012 at 03:44 PM
"Nothing changes by getting our hands on this report" - Um. Then why are certain elected officials still working so hard to conceal the truth? They have seen it. They are still stalling and fighting to keep it hidden. Do they think nothing changes? Yes, it's time to move on. It's like a beautiful baby with an unbelievably stinky diaper. It fills you with dread and stinks so that you get the dry heaves, but you know the baby needs it changed so you hold your nose and get to work. That's what I'm doing. The people will know the truth.
Blind mice July 19, 2012 at 04:04 PM
There's nothing criminal in the report. Suspects would be arrested Blago style. It ain't happening. Sandra wants the report to smear Dave at election time, nothing else. GettIng my next pair of glasses at American vision on Cicero. Advise all others to do same. Doc Bury will disappear back into in the woodwork after she gets beaten like a drum in the election. Only chance to win if she goes for trustee. Alex ain't hat dumb to give 2 up because he know Dave will win easily.
Blind mice July 19, 2012 at 04:08 PM
There might be some rebukes for Dave in the report, but he won't be the only one tom's frat brother takes shots at. I'd like to see report also, but the board voted unanimously to the confidentiality agreement. Why would they do that and then reverse course as Doc Bury and her cohort Andy want? Doc Bury will fade after election. Andy ilwill stuck around. He's got nothing else to do with his life.
Oak Lawn Homegirl July 19, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Did any of you consider the possibility that the person being protected by the confidentiality agreement might not have anything at all to do with the village and rather the employment practices of individuals at the firm. You have no idea whether the village or the law firm made the request only that it was agreed upon. Again, give it up already. Don't we have something more productive to do like bring business to Oak Lawn? All this talk of conspiracy (I laugh out loud at the thought!) is doing nothing to help make our village more attractive to businesses and homeowners. Enough!!!
Oak Lawn Gal July 19, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Yes this is certainly beating a dead horse. When 2 parties enter a settlement and include a confidentiality agreement they can't do anything to break that agreement or the settlement can be nullified with possible penalties.
Oak Lawn Gal July 19, 2012 at 06:15 PM
OLG it wouldn't surprise me that it's possible there are quite a few dirty hands involved in this. But this is an election year and some re trying to make this an issue where the mayor is the devil and all others are pure as the driven snow. Would I like to read the report? Sure. Do I expect any illegalities in there? No - nothing you could prosecute anyone for, As someone else pointed out lawyers are officers of the court and if they see evidence of a crime they have to report it or risk disbarment. Confidentiality agreements re very common in the case of settlements. I worked for a company once where I saw several NDAs crafted and the penalties are usually severe. But again there's an election coming up so this will be used as political fodder.
OakLawnGuy July 19, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Political motivations? Perish the thought! Wait....just joking. Yep, the realignment of board members, indeed perhaps the genesis of this whole investigation, has politics stamped all over it.
STM July 19, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Boy, doesn't anyone work in Oak Lawn? I see all people do is sit at the computer all day and write comments about absurd things.
Dave W. July 19, 2012 at 06:54 PM
A couple of things...wate of money. You were in such a hurry making your fake profile just to bash on me that you didn't even spell your own fake name right. So maybe work on that next time...also, is it really a waSte of money if they uncover wrongdoing and monetary mismanagement? It actually IS (a tiny bit) my money, since I pay taxes in Oak Lawn all the time. Property taxes, every store I go into...(I try to shop in town every chance I get...), window stickers... Do YOU know how much is missing? (I say IF because unlike many people on this board, on all sides, I still think everybody, on all sides, deserves the benefit of at least SOME doubt until they are proven guilty...) What price is it you put on having a non-corrupt town? Even if the actual amount is say...$5000...wouldn't you want to know? So that whoever is at fault can be brought to at leat responsiblity...at least be voted out of office if nothing else? Also, on the other hand...what if it proves that there really was NOTHING? Shouldn't those people be vindicated? Wouldn't YOU want to be if it were you? Does it suck that we the taxpayers (I presume you to be one) are stuck with having to pay for such things? Yes, but it is more irritating in principle than even the money...if it was $100 it would be sad that we have to spend it on this instead of ANYTHING else. Your shortsighted attack does nothing to solve the problems, and would infact only help to cover them up. Unless that is what you really want.
Grunty July 19, 2012 at 08:19 PM
@Sandra Bury, I explained why they would chose to keep it hidden in my post. As far as your analogy goes. The baby's diaper was changed. What instead your asking for is to put the dirty diaper back on to the baby after its already been taken off to prove that the diaper does in fact have crap in it.
Grunty July 19, 2012 at 08:21 PM
This is exactly what I'm talking about. The confidentiality is most likely to protect the law firm, not the village officials....
mousygarner July 20, 2012 at 03:35 AM
If Phelan was Mayor you would be beating down the village hall doors to release the report. You claim Phelan has a frat brother( untrue ) on Godfrey and Kahn,but say nothing of the Mayor's admitted buddies at tressler. Who are the ones the report is on and did pay the village $450,000 for something. Let freedom ring!!!
anthony July 20, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Good Point Enough typing.. Someone should start a petition to demand a forensic audit
Sandra Bury July 20, 2012 at 04:32 AM
Grunty, you're mistaken if you think that my motivation is hate. My motivation is love. I love this community and the terrific folks who live here. I have no patience for elected officials who put their selfish interests first, and then contrive convoluted ways to conceal the truth from the very people they work for. It's wrong in every way you look at it and I'm sure a judge will agree.
Sandy Callahan July 20, 2012 at 11:54 AM
http://southtownstar.suntimes.com/13860109-522/oak-lawn-treasurer-rips-call-for-forensic-audit-of-fest.html and http://www.mcgoverngreene.com/specialists/mcgovern.html
Homegrown in OL July 22, 2012 at 04:59 AM
You should call Lisa Madigan... FOIA law states: Public records cannot be withheld from disclosure under subsection 7(1)(a) simply because the parties agree to a "gag order" and that order is entered by a court. Carbondale Convention Center v. City of Carbondale, 245 Ill. App. 3d 474, 477 (5th Dist.1993). (5 ILCS 140/8) (from Ch. 116, par. 208) Sec. 8. If any public record that is exempt from disclosure under Section 7 of this Act contains any material which is not exempt, the public body shall delete the information which is exempt and make the remaining information available for inspection and copying. Where the denial is from the head of a municipality or other public body, except as provided in subsection (b) of this Section, suit may be filed in the circuit court for the county where the public body is located.
Homegrown in OL July 22, 2012 at 05:07 AM
The Circuit Court will then review the report to see if any exceptions apply that should be redacted. One would hope that if anything inappropriate has occurred the Circuit Court would notice..
Sandra Bury July 22, 2012 at 10:36 AM
Thanks Homegrown in OL - I have no doubt this confidentiality agreement will not stand when challenged. The desires of elected officials to keep closed door deals quiet will not override the taxpayers right to know if their elected officials represent them or the interests of themselves or friends. The truth will be known.
OakLawnGuy July 22, 2012 at 02:38 PM
To a point I made in another comment section, this agreement will stand if someone with power wants it to stand. And while the Speaker Madigan influence is most likely not succintly evident in the agreement I'm sure, it casts a wide shadow. Please refer to http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-06-27/news/ct-met-oak-lawn-mjm-20100626_1_trustee-bob-streit-village-trustee-village-attorney.

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