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Skokie residents react to ruling that Village Board violated Open Meetings Act

Several Skokie residents made public comments at the Village Board’s March 4 meeting regarding the Illinois Attorney General’s ruling that the Skokie Village Board violated the Open Meetings Act when it improperly discussed a $4.5 million loan to a hotel development project in downtown Skokie in February 2023.

In compliance with the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor’s ruling, the Skokie Village Board released the closed session meeting minutes and audio recording available to the public at the Feb. 20 meeting.

In response to residents airing their grievances to the board at the March 4 villagemeeting, Mayor George Van Dusen maintained that the board had the right to go into executive session to discuss economic development.

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Skokie resident and frequent public commenter Emi Yamauchi said she requested public records relating to the matter. “For the past year, I feel that I have been lied to and deliberately misled regarding this (Hilton) Homewood Suites loan,” she said. “I have an appointment to listen to the (meeting) tape… I’m actually afraid to listen to it based on what I’ve read so far.”

“I’m trying to discuss the subject with the Attorney General’s office,” said Van Dusen, addressing a public comment made by commenter Jan Beladi. “I think they ruled very narrowly, and colleagues of mine are very concerned that the ruling was so narrow and did not include the entirety of the Open Meetings Act.”

“Is it normal to have a discussion and make deliberations in private like that?” Beladi asked.

“Yes,” responded Van Dusen, citing several reasons why a municipal board has the right to go into an executive session. Under Illinois law, a board has the right to go into closed session to discuss “the sale or purchase of securities, investments, or investment contracts. This exception shall not apply to the investment of assets or income of funds deposited into the Illinois Prepaid Tuition Trust Fund.”

The village board approved the loan in a public meeting in April 2023. Construction at the hotel was halted in late spring/early summer of 2023. The developer cited high interest rates and a challenging environment for lenders as reasons for the project’s inability to keep moving. “No public money has been invested,” said Van Dusen.

“I found some of those comments really misleading,” said Johnson. “The village board very clearly violated the Open Meetings Act.”

“I dispute that,” interrupted Van Dusen.

“I know the mayor disputes this,” continued Johnson. “You’re referencing an exemption of the Open Meetings Act that this board never cited when we entered closed session, so even if theoretically it could have been a lawful discussion, the discussion that we had using the exemption we cited was an Open Meetings Act violation.”

“We have done the correct thing,” said Johnson. “We have released the minutes and the audio recording, and at this point, it’s not helpful in any way, shape or form to dispute the Illinois Attorney General’s office when they very clearly showed us something we have done wrong. The correct response is, ‘Yes, we have done something wrong, and we will not do that again.'”

“We did not,” said Van Dusen, “but that’s okay.”

Johnson responded, “If we keep denying that we’ve made mistakes, we may repeat those mistakes. So by accepting that we’ve made a mistake and vowing to do better is an important part of good government.”