Is the DeKalb Public Library above the law? Do good people, and a great cause darn it, justify breaking the law? Is “mea culpa, now let’s move on” an appropriate response for ignoring the law?
Based on the published agenda of the Regular Monthly Meeting of the Board of Trustees for 7pm, Wednesday, August 11, 2010, the answer to the three questions above is a resounding, “Yes!”
From the agenda:
a) Prioritize Architectural Firms
b) Approval of the Building Program – Fred Schlipf
c) Lawyer’s Report
(1) Proposed Ratification of the May 12th 2010 Vote
DeKalb County State’s Attorney, John Farrell, is awaiting the outcome on the above agenda items to decide what his course of action will be. The library’s attorney, Gary Cordes, in the Daily Chronicle, publicly admitted that the Board of Trustees violated the Open Meetings Act by voting on an $1.8 million purchase of property formerly occupied by the DeKalb Clinic Chartered in closed session. Then he changed his story.
Now it appears the matter may be juris privati or “of private right; not clothed with a public interest.” Farrell met with Cordes and Dee Coover, library director, evidently in private to discuss the matter.
A request for review for possible violations of the Open Meetings Act was filed with the Illinois Attorney General’s office on July 14, 2010. On August 9, 2010 I received a courtesy copy of this letter from Lisa Madigan’s office to Gary Cordes.
A November 17, 2009 “Letter of Intent,” between the DeKalb Public Library (DPL) and DeKalb Clinic Chartered, Inc., was obtained by a DeKalb County Online FOIA request filed July 12, 2010. This Letter of Intent, which was approved in closed session during a Special Meeting of the DeKalb Public Library Board of Directors on November 18, 2009, calls for initial earnest money deposit of $10,000.00 upon signing and delivering an offer to purchase. An additional $25,000 was required upon the DPL’s ability to satisfy all of the contingencies including consummating a satisfactory agreement and/or resolution between the DeKalb Public Library and the City of DeKalb, if required, authorizing the purchase of the property.
DeKalb County Online has filed a FOIA request with the City of DeKalb asking for all relative correspondence between the City and the DPL as well as any reports of meetings filed by assistant City Manager, Rudy Espiritu, who has attended multiple closed session meetings of the DeKalb Public Library. It is likely that another Request for Review will be filed.
Mea culpa cannot be the corrective action taken by the DeKalb Public Library or the City of DeKalb. The $1.8 million purchase sets in motion a commitment of several millions more of public dollars – in TIF funds for demolition of the former clinic buildings – and in public debt to construct a new library.
This matter is not juris privati. It is clearly publici juris – the public’s right to know – before the deal is done.
Corrective action must include setting aside the contract — especially since the library’s position has now changed to the deal isn’t done. A public hearing should be held with a hearing officer and the right for cross examination of witnesses. It is the public’s right to know how public dollars are spent and how they are obtained. It is also our right to be heard before such decisions are made.
Here’s hoping those rights won’t continue to be trampled.
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