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Schaumburg: State's attorney hopefuls weigh in on OMA violation

Published: Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010 2:06 p.m. CDT

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As DeKalb Public Library taxpayers await DeKalb County State’s Attorney John Farrell’s decision on whether the library board voted illegally to spend $1.8 million of taxpayer money, two other candidates are campaigning to replace Farrell.

Democrat Sarah Gallagher Chami and Republican Clay Campbell are vying for the state’s attorney’s office in the Nov. 2 general election. Gallagher Chami defeated Farrell in February’s primary.

A rite of election season, the Daily Chronicle sent questionnaires to candidates seeking office this November.

We use these questionnaires to get a better feel for where candidates stand on issues, why they want to hold office and why they believe they are the best candidate for the office they are seeking.

We will be publishing these questionnaires and candidate answers shortly at Daily-Chronicle.com.

One of the questions we asked of Gallagher Chami and Campbell in the state’s attorney race dealt with the DeKalb Library Board’s apparent Open Meetings Act violation and how the state’s attorney’s office has handled the situation.

To refresh your memory, here’s a CliffsNotes version of the situation.

In July, it was revealed that the DeKalb Library Board voted in May – in closed session – to approve an agreement to purchase the old DeKalb Clinic property for $1.8 million. The Open Meetings Act stipulates the vote had to be taken in open session.

After this was reported, Farrell launched an inquiry into the matter. Two months later, Farrell’s office has yet to rule on the apparent violation and had to request an extension on the 60 days he had to file litigation. Meanwhile, the library board maintains it did nothing wrong, ratified its May vote with an open-session vote in August, and continues its planning to build a new library without a legal ruling on its May vote.

So, the question we posed to Gallagher Chami and Campbell was: do you agree with how the state’s attorney’s office has handled the apparent DeKalb Library Board’s Open Meetings Act violation?

Campbell’s written response: “I do not agree with how the state’s attorney’s office handled the apparent violation of the Open Meetings Act by the DeKalb Library Board. Since it appears to me that the Open Meetings Act was violated, in spirit if nothing else, I would insist that any settlement of the matter require an admission by the board of this fact. Upon said admission, I would request that all members of the board, and any other concerned citizens of the community, attend an educational forum on the Open Meetings Act to ensure that no further violations occur. Litigation should be a last resort, as it squanders precious tax dollars.”

Gallagher Chami’s written response: “The Open Meeting Act provides a greater amount of public access to the public bodies that serve this community. As state’s attorney, I will promote open government. I will thoroughly investigate all alleged violations of the law both civil and criminal. The state’s attorney is bound to enforce the law, and actions must be taken when a violation occurs. All violations should be dealt with swiftly and with an eye to justice in the best interest of our community. At this point, no action has been taken, and there has been no resolution. I am privy only to the information obtained by our local press outlets. However, the library board has held a subsequent meeting, which was open to the public, where the purchase at issue was approved. The appropriate actions should be taken quickly and the public be allowed to move forward in our quest to improve DeKalb County.”

As you can read, Campbell’s answer was straightforward, and he answered the question. Gallagher Chami’s response was more measured.

At this point, it should be disclosed that the library board’s attorney in this matter, Gary Cordes, is listed as a Gallagher Chami supporter on her campaign website.

We only can hope that we have some closure on the situation soon. Campbell is correct. Any settlement between Farrell’s office and the library board must include an admission of guilt. If it doesn’t, it only further illustrates how public bodies and law enforcement turn a blind eye to open government.

• 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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