Village Board Gets Second Opinion to Tell Us What We Already Knew

January 2, 2012

Village Government

by Norman Abramowitz

By now it should be no secret to Winfield residents that since their election to the Village Board last April, Trustees Tim Allen and Tony Reyes have made many loud and acrimonious declarations claiming wrongdoing and lying on the part of other elected officials and Village staff members.  Nearly everything that now comes before the Board, from mundane matters such as regular Approval of the Minutes to major issues like discussions of Winfield’s Riverwalk or Town Center development has prompted the duo to launch personal attacks and engage in protracted debate.

This past autumn, using accusations that Village President Deborah Birutis arbitrarily cuts them off when they oppose her views and making claims that current rules and procedures are unfair to them as minority Trustees, Allen and Reyes convinced the Village Board to hire a second law firm, at taxpayer expense, to make recommendations on how to develop greater harmony on the Board and enable quicker action at the Committee of the Whole meetings.

Allen and Reyes also complained that Village Manager, Curt Barrett, distorted or misinterpreted their version of events, intruded with his own opinions, and spoke at public meetings with out first being asked to.  Along similar lines, Allen and Reyes maintained that attorneys from the Village’s current law firm, Tressler, frequently meddled in Village matters and offered false and biased legal opinions.  They urged the firm be fired.   Additionally, the two have repeatedly demanded that strict adherence to Roberts Rules of Order be made paramount rather than relying on the usual way of doing business, which they blamed for the atmosphere of anger, delays and unresolved issues.

Other Trustees offered disagreement with these accusations and in the case of Committee of the Whole meetings, pointed out that that the Committee of the Whole is not a legislative body and is merely intended to discuss and reconcile opposing views and differences of opinion through informal discussion and present consensus views and enable Trustees to vote on matters from an informed position.

The second law firm, Ancel, Glick, was hired to sort through these complaints and offer an opinion.  Attending the December 1st meeting was attorney Robert Bush who offered comments confirming the correctness of President Birutis’ handling of meetings.  Notably, he also concurred with the 4-2 majority which voted last July to continue use of the abbreviated Roberts Rules as the usual method of conducting business.

Trustee Allen did not like what he was hearing and challenged Attorney Bush with numerous questions.  Atty. Bush answered them all and noted that in his 27 years of practicing municipal law he had found that since there are no State rules that exist on this issue, which leaves different localities each do things their own way.  Things seem to have worked fine until this past spring’s election.

Attorney Bush pointed out that Roberts Rules were formulated for use by large legislative bodies, far larger than the one in our Village.  It is his opinion Roberts Rules should be subservient to the usual and long standing practices now used.  And, while, yes, Roberts Rules may legally be adopted by the Village Board if it so chooses, he advised against doing it; it would be more time consuming, expensive and would likely delay decision making rather than hasten it.  A new set of rules is not what is needed in order to bring about harmony on this Village Board.

Atty. Bush also stated that he opposed Trustee Allen’s desire to place each Trustee’s names next to verbatim quotes as that would tend to frustrate free and open debate and perhaps be used for political gain at a later date.

Attorney Bush affirmed his trust in the manner and integrity of Winfield’s current attorneys and the high quality of their advice.  It is our attorney’s right and obligation to give legal opinions.  Furthermore it is both the prerogative and the duty of the Village President and the Village Manager to voice opinions and state their views on all issues.

Atty. Bush made a point to state his agreement with our current legal firm’s opinion that meetings are not restrictive of discussion and debate.  However, it is the right of the Village President to require Trustee to stick to the topics at hand and not attempt to secure debate or votes on items which are not on the agenda or out of order.

During the Public Comment period following the above discussion, three residents spoke of the need for the Trustees to work in harmony and to continue to allow members of the public to have a voice in Council meetings, and to maintain current rules that have long been in effect.  One resident expressed doubt that harmony is possible on the Board as it is currently composed.  He speculated that the negativity and complaints by Trustees Allen and Reyes concerning current procedures, Village leadership and the rulings of Village Attorneys are not intended to improve procedures and bring about progress, but are simply opening guns in their election campaign to destroy the credibility of the current Board so that voters in the next Village election will be disposed to repudiate them and any other candidates who oppose the Allen and Reyes’ agenda for the Village.

It is hopeless, he said, to try to get more Trustee cooperation at this time for this reason.

The meeting itself took 3 ¾ hours.

About Positive on Winfield

Positive on Winfield is a blog with articles on local issues, local events, and local interests in Winfield, IL. Positive on Winfield is the blog website of the local civic action group, Winfield United for a Better Community.

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