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Government Commentary

Schaumburg: Silence not helping DeKalb library


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The DeKalb Public Library has a perception problem on its hands, and staying silent won't make it go away.

By now you probably know that the library board violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act on May 12, when it voted in closed session to enter into a purchase agreement to buy the land where the old DeKalb Clinic currently sits on Franklin Street.

It seems the library board's May 12 Open Meetings Act violation is one of many potential violations, which include meeting in closed session for the purpose of land acquisition when it shouldn't have after the purchase agreement was signed by both parities.

Although library board attorney Gary Cordes tried to claim Friday that no open meetings violation occurred by citing passages of the Freedom of Information Act, he did say earlier in the week that the May 12 violation was inadvertent, that the board got swept up in the excitement of consummating a deal.

That explanation is not easy to swallow, and, if true, makes you wonder how many other times the library board got too excited about and broke the law. And Cordes' original explanation didn't mention an unfamiliarity with the Open Meetings Act, which takes ignorance out of the equation.

On top of that, the board remained silent on announcing the agreement until this week because it thought it could do so during a 120-day due diligence period, Cordes said.

Basically, we are being asked to believe it was a big misunderstanding.

So if what Cordes was saying before he tried using the Freedom of Information Act to circumvent the Open Meetings act is true – that it was a mistake – why have Library Director Dee Coover, Board of Trustees President Wendell Johnson, and the remainder of the board remained silent in the days after the disclosure of the Open Meetings Act violation?

Keeping quiet and referring questions to your attorney fuels the perception that you have something to hide. If it was a mistake, why wouldn't you address the public and say so?

So far, the library's communication to the public regarding the land acquisition was this Twitter tweet from Thursday afternoon:

"Do you have questions about the library's purchase of the former DeKalb Clinic? Find answers on the library's website. http://www.dkpl.org."

If you followed the link, it sent you to the library's website homepage, where a big, blue box appeared with the words:

"The DeKalb Public Library

and the DeKalb Clinic

Your Questions Answered

Updated daily"

When you click on it, it provides a PDF of frequently asked questions, which does an adequate job answering questions about the land purchase and why the library needs more space.

Unfortunately, it doesn't answer any questions regarding how the deal was consummated and why it was done so in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

In a time when trust in government is at an all-time low, the library and its board would have been better suited to publicly address the issue head-on. Show the community you have nothing to hide. Do not give residents any reason to believe this deal was purposely done behind closed doors.

Instead, there is silence from the library and its board. Perhaps it feels that the issue will just go away, that it can make it all better by taking corrective action – presumably in open session – at its August meeting.

That's not happening, however, and now the public's mind is racing and doubting the credibility of the board.

The old adage is that any publicity is good publicity. I don't think that's applicable in this situation.


• Jason Schaumburg is editor of the Daily Chronicle. E-mail him at jschaumburg@daily-chronicle.com. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DC_Editor, and check out his blog, From the Editor’s Desk, at Daily-Chronicle.com/blogs.

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