When Trustee-elect Mike Rogers suddenly decided to resign the trustee seat he was appointed to fill by the outgoing Mayor Henderson Yarbrough after winning a seat of his own in the April 9 Consolidated Election, thus allowing Yarbrough to make an appointment that Mayor-elect Edwenna Perkins believed was hers to fill, there was a rash of outrage from Maywoodians (and former Maywoodians) of all hues and professional backgrounds and political ideologies.
For the most part, though (and we might as well be honest), the fallout has been a tale of two villages, if you will. Yarbrough-wood and Anti-Yarbrough-wood. Yes, this is a rough simplification of a complex reality. Yes, there are many, many Maywoodians (most perhaps, especially those Yarbrough-woodians and Anti-Yarbrough-woodians with positions and titles) who don’t believe themselves to be members of either camp and would tell you in a second that they’re only on the side of the ‘people’ (whatever that ambiguous term means). And trust me, it gets even more confusing than that.
I should note that the two distinctions — Yarbough-wood and Anti-Yarbrough-wood — symbolize more than the divide separating those who support the outgoing Mayor and those who don’t. They also represent two distinct perspectives held by many Maywoodians and may be roughly divided between those who believe that the Yarbrough administration is largely responsible for Maywood’s present woes (the Anti’s) and those who believe that Maywood’s present woes, insofar as they exist, are a) not as bad as the Anti-Yarbrough-woodians make them out to be, b) are not unique to the past 8 years of Yarbrough’s administration and c) unfairly overshadow the progress that has been made in the past 8 years.
I’m going to advocate for what seems the most sensible solution for resolving the apparent dilemma that tonight’s Special Meeting will likely reflect. But first, some clarification (by way of a fictionalized chat).
The following is an imagined (yet representative) conversation between an Anti-Yarbrough-woodian and a Yarbrough-woodian regarding the recent resignation of Mike Rogers. Note that this conversation includes only the best arguments I’ve heard presented by both sides.
Anti-Yarbrough-woodian: ‘This is just another example of Maywood’s dysfunction. Only in Maywood would the people’s voice not be heard with regard to such a critical appointment as Village trustee. It is unacceptable for this appointment to take place a) before public comment is held, and b) without the public knowing who exactly the Mayor intends to appoint before the meeting takes place. The people spoke in April, but we’re still getting ignored.’
Yarbrough-woodian: ‘First of all, where were you during all of the other board meetings? What is going on with regard to this appointment is simply standard procedure. It is not illegal. Everything that is happening is within the law. It is fully within the Mayor’s right to appoint whomever he desires, as long as the board approves. So what’s the big deal? As usual, you people are majoring in a minor. All you people do is get angry and highlight the negative about every thing we do, without promoting or attending anything positive.’
I’m going to go through these arguments point-by-point, revealing their respective merits and flaws (as far as I can tell).
My conclusion: The Village’s handling of the Rogers resignation is not uniquely bad, nor is it much worse relative to the actions of other municipalities (in fact, it’s pretty standard protocol). But this doesn’t mean that Maywood’s handling of tonight’s [probable] appointment is not problematic or that some people’s outrage is unjustified.
While I can’t confidently respond to the Anti-Yarbrough-woodian’s comments about the Rogers resignation being representative of Maywood’s general dysfunction (this is a value statement that I won’t get into), I can say that Maywood isn’t unique with regard to how it’s handling the Rogers resignation. In fact, to be quite honest, it’s pretty tame compared to other cases I’ve come across.
For instance, just last year a judge blocked a Mayor in Dixmoor from appointing a trustee. According to the Chicago Tribune, Mayor Keevin Gimmett, “swore in an ally without the board’s consent [..] Grimmett tried to appoint Henry Murphy on Dec. 12 even though his appointment wasn’t placed on the Village Board’s agenda and the public wasn’t given notice, according to the complaint and officials. When the board voted down the appointment, Grimmett nominated Aleetha Evans, whose name also was not on any agenda.”
There is also the case of Lisle, which more closely approximates Maywood’s case, but, still, is rather worse. According to a January 7, 2013, posting on the Lisle Patch’s “Lisle Watchdog” blog, the Village held a meeting to make an appointment to the town’s Planning & Zone Commission, but on the agenda, there was no mention of the appointment, nor was there any mention of the name of the person who was to be appointed.
The article went on to mention that the omission, “[F]ollows similar action by the Lisle Board just last month. In another apparent violation of the [Illinois] Open Meeting[s] Act, the meeting agenda and packet information for the Dec 17, 2012 meeting omitted the name of the person to be appointed as Trustee. At the Dec 17, 2012 meeting the Board of Trustees took final action an[d] voted to appoint Brad Hettich as Trustee with no notice to the public. Not suprisingly, there was no public comment in favor or against his appointment.”
Although the name of the person Yarbrough intends to appoint (if he intends to make an appointment at all) is not on the agenda, at least the agenda was issued 48 hours in advance of the Special Meeting. Moreover, the Dixmoor case was particularly egregious, considering the Mayor made his appointment without even notifying his own board of trustees, let alone the public.
And then there’s this big elephant in the room. Technically speaking, the Board may convene to appoint someone to fill the trustee vacancy without the public present. It’s within the rules (apparently). According to Section 2(a) of The Illinois Open Meetings Act, “All meetings of public bodies shall be open to the public unless excepted in subsection (c) and closed in accordance with Section 2(a).” Part 3 of subsection (c) gives municipalities the authority to close meetings in the event of, “The selection of a person to fill a public office, as defined in this Act, including a vacancy in a public office, when the public body is given power to appoint under law or ordinance […].”
“[C]losed in accordance with Section 2(a),” is clarified by page 3 of The Citizen Advocacy Center’s guide to the Open Meetings Act, which notes: “Public bodies may hold closed meetings provided that they state a legally sufficient reason in an open session for holding a closed session. A majority of a quorum present during an open session must also vote to close the meeting. While the Act allows public bodies to convene in closed sessions, public bodies are not required to go into closed session.” Translation: Don’t get too up in arms if the Board votes to do precisely this at tonight’s meeting. Apparently, it’s legal. In fact, I would be more surprised if the aforementioned scenario didn’t occur and the Board opted to vote on the appointment in front of the public’s very eyes. The point is that this stuff isn’t unique to Maywood.
I presented some of your concerns to both the Illinois Attorney General’s Acting Public Access Counselor (the go-to person if you have questions regarding the Open Meetings Act) and Maywood’s Assistant Village Clerk, Leonor Sanchez. With regard to the fact that the trustee appointment is listed before public comments on the agenda, the Counselor said, “Each village or public body has [its] own rules regarding public speaking.” The legally pertinent issue is whether or not persons are allowed to speak — not necessarily where in the agenda those public comments fall. Sanchez reinforced the Counselor’s assertion. “Our agenda is by ordinance. This agenda actually has been followed for at least 4 years,” she said. At the time of publication, my request for documentation of this ordinance was still unfulfilled (understandable, considering the short time frame in which I’d made the request).
As to the fact that the name of the Mayor’s intended appointee was not included in the agenda, Sanchez said, “There are some requirements that the state statute provides for, but in terms of the name of the person […] that’s not something the statute requires.” And from what I’ve researched on the statute, she seems to be correct.
It’s interesting how each side tends to force unrealistic qualities on the other. Just as the Anti-Yarbrough-woodians exaggerate and inflate, or simply mis-characterize, the Village’s corruption; the Yarbrough-woodians often mis-characterize the motivations and the motives not only of the Anti-Yarbrough-woodians, but of most citizens who simply complain. It’s typical of Yarbrough-woodians to dismiss citizen complaints with the assumption that lack of past involvement in Village affairs automatically invalidates their concerns.
For one, empty board meetings aren’t unique to Maywood! As the Citizen Advocacy Center’s guide to the Illinois Open Meetings Act states, “While a handful of concerned citizens may attend local government meetings, often times, the primary attendees are journalists.” That’s a statewide guide, so those observations can’t be solely applicable to Maywood. When citizens complain, the task of elected officials are to deal with the complaints alone, taking them at face value (are they valid, are they reasonable, are they fair?) — not to scrutinize the average board meeting attendance of the citizen complaining.
What’s more, elected officials shouldn’t worry when citizens complain or seek ‘redress’ of grievances — they should worry when citizens stop complaining. An angry citizenry generally implies an awoken citizenry. And an awoken citizenry is just as vital to the social development of a community as is the availability of jobs.
So, it turns out that, despite many people’s obvious frustration regarding the Village’s handling of this trustee appointment, the Village doesn’t seem to be doing anything out of the ordinary. But I wouldn’t be offended if, in your opinion [you Anti-Yarbrough-woodians], the judgment is still out. For one, you have every right to distrust the Yarbrough-woodians, because (and let’s be honest, here), at every turn they seem to preempt justified citizen outrage behind the veil of ‘legality,’ not bothering to consider that people do a lot of bad things that are perfectly legal. To say nothing of the many instances of apparent illegality that have frequently turned up in connection with them. And what’s more, when forced to confront these issues of illegality (see here, here, here, here, and here), they find ways to escape through all kinds of trapdoor excuses — people are being too negative, they’re picking on Maywood again, it’s another case of the powerless hating on those with power, they’re airing dirty laundry, etc., etc., etc.
But we need to go beyond the strict legality of this trustee appointment issue for another reason. Mike Rogers’s resignation and Mayor Yarbrough’s appointment comes less than a month after elections, which makes the possibility that someone who didn’t even run for the office of trustee might nonetheless be appointed trustee all the more egregious. The crux of the matter is that both sides are right — the Yarbrough-woodians say that the uproar over this minor issue is uncalled for, which would be correct. The Anti-Yarbrough-woodians say that the uproar is justified, because, yet again, the Yarbrough-woodians are up to their usual petty tactics majorly corrupting minor things, such as a trustee appointment that should be rather routine.
But minor issues take the fun out of political gamesmanship. And let’s face it, democracy done right is boring. That’s why I doubt Mr. Yarbrough and his allies on the Board will do what is so obviously correct that it blinds the fool. Nevertheless, I’ll advocate for the impossibility, because hope lost is better than nothing gained.
For the sake of unity, for the sake of the ‘people,’ for the sake of ‘Moving Maywood Forward’ — all those ambiguously good ideals that both Mayor Yarbrough and Mayor-elect Perkins frequently proclaim — the two should agree to implement the very straightforward, no-nonsense, democratic, elegantly simply, very fair plan advocated by the Neighbors of Maywood Community Organization (NoMCO) and appoint the “next-highest-vote-receiving candidates for Village Trustee to the vacant seats created by our most recent local elections.”
A very minor issue, indeed, but a great moment in Maywood will result from it. Let this Village see what good looks like in reality, not just in words.