GET OUT OF JAIL FREE
Springfield aldermen are not criminals, or at least not provably so. That’s the decision from the Sangamon County state’s attorney’s office, which has decided not to prosecute city council members for violating the state Open Meetings Act by discussing a proposal to privatize Oak Ridge Cemetery during a Nov. 5 executive session. Part of the problem, according to assistant state’s attorney Dwayne Gab, is that council members taped the closed-door meeting and also had the blessing of corporation counsel John Mehlick. Mehlick gave the go-ahead on the theory that talk about cemetery privatization was actually a matter of personnel and collective bargaining as opposed to a public policy question. As Gab notes, proof beyond reasonable doubt is a high standard. “I don’t think I can show it’s an intentional violation,” Gab says. “I think that the actual making of the tape itself lends itself to an interpretation that they weren’t intentionally trying to violate the act.” In addition to criminal penalties, the statute allows state’s attorneys to sue public bodies that flout the law, and Gab says that his office considered doing just that. The standard of proof in a civil matter is lower than in criminal court, but Gab said that his office decided not to proceed with a lawsuit because Illinois Times staff writer Bruce Rushton, who filed a police report alleging that the council broke the law, has already sued. Gab acknowledged that Rushton’s lawsuit wouldn’t preclude a civil action by the state’s attorney, but the matter nonetheless is closed so far as the state’s attorney is concerned. “At that point, it would have been duplicative for us to file (a lawsuit) as well,” Gab said. Our bad, we guess.