Real Wealth Society

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I’ve been thinking about openness By Fred Cederholm

Column for on/after Dec. 10th, 2006

I’ve been thinking about openness. Actually I’ve been thinking about oversight, the League of Women Voters, the Illinois Open Meetings Act, Cherry Vale Mall, preparedness, and landfills. Under our system of governance, we elect officials to provide for our needs and look out for our wellbeing. We defer to them much of the decision making process which impacts a lot of our daily lives. Still… we have the right to know what is going on, and they have the obligation to keep us informed.

You see, although our system of representative democracy transfers the power of “deciding” to the elected (and appointed) powers that be, We the People… maintain the right to be kept in the loop and yes, even provide input and feedback regarding our wishes, concerns, and desires on the issues - the policies, and the procedures which affect us and our communities. Such a dialogue is critical to the workings of our system. Open and honest government is the cornerstone of American democracy, and it is only achieved through the free exchange of information between the government and its citizens.

The League of Women Voters is a fine organization and I am proud to be a part of the Rochelle Area Chapter. Every now and then, it really amazes me how open (or closed) our local governing bodies are to the citizenry and how many (or few) of the locals do take advantage of attending the meetings, the forums, and the public hearings to keep informed and participate in the dialogue of governing. Citizen participation is the key, and the League works so hard to encourage openness and interaction. Does this open participation that we enjoy locally exist because of the League, or because of the openness of our local governing bodies? THAT is a good question…, but I TH*NK there are elements of both at work.

The State of Illinois is actually kind of unique in that we enjoy the mandated openness of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS – Illinois Compiled Statues - 120) which is designed to ensure that public business is conducted in public view, by prohibiting secret deliberations and actions on matters that should be discussed in a public forum. Granted there are 24 matters of discussion/consideration which are exempt from the Act. These generically include personnel matters, disciplinary/ performance/ termination actions, legal/ litigation matters, purchase /leasing considerations, and security/ criminal matters. These balance the competing interests of government officials to discuss sensitive matters candidly with the public’s right to be informed about how its government operates. Just this past fall, Ogle County Illinois State’s Attorney Ben Rowe spoke at an open (to the public) League forum on the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act. The presentation/dialogue was excellent!

Last Friday, the public only just learned of a thwarted terrorist attack planned for December 22, 2006 at the nearby Cherry Vale Mall. This hit everybody around here like a bombshell out of the blue (no pun intended). Although the alleged perpetrator had been under surveillance for months by Federal agents, virtually no locals – public officials or citizens – had a clue about this “demented cookie” until his arrest last Wednesday and his arraignment two days later in Chicago. This was a Federal Homeland Security matter and was successfully handled as it should have been handled (thank God). The drama was just a little too close to home and we really were very lucky – this time.

I found it particularly interesting how this story with national implications was handled. True, it was a big deal locally, but the national media pretty much gave it a pass. We all hear when a terrorist action succeeds, but is it not just as important for all to know when an attack is successfully thwarted? I was also amazed how surprised the (local) TV interviewers appeared when the Rockford and Cherry Valley Police Chiefs discussed the detailed pre-planned contingency actions which would have mobilized first responders from the entire area. Such contingency disaster preparedness was the subject of last spring’s “State of the Community Dinner” co-sponsored by the League and the Rochelle Area Chamber of Commerce. Presentations by the Rochelle Community Hospital, Police Department, Fire Department, and Municipal Utilities were both detailed and enlightening. The dialogue in the question and answer session which followed was totally open – nothing was held back. It was really impressive!

On December 13th at 7:00 PM, the League will host an open forum at the Rochelle City Council Chambers regarding the facts, information availability, and procedures behind the forthcoming public hearings on the proposed landfill expansion. It should prove to be a most open and informative session. I encourage all interested/concerned parties to attend. This opportunity is being provided to one and all - please take advantage of it. I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.

Copyright 2006 Questions, Inc. All rights reserved.


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