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Ethics code not meant to stifle opinions

On Monday afternoon, Jerry Sufranski of Queen Anne Road near Woodstock filed an ethics complaint against the Woodstock City Council.

The complaint alleges that the council's Feb. 7 resolution in support of the March 21 District 200 building bond referendum violates city code.

Like municipalities throughout the state, Woodstock adopted an ethics code a couple of years ago after the state demanded it.

Here's the thing:

That code never was meant to deny people their First Amendment right to free speech.

It never was meant to be used as an anti-referendum tool.

It never was meant to deny elected officials their right to express an opinion on a matter of importance to their constituency.

It was meant to stop the kind of shenanigans that were going on in the Illinois secretary of state's office, licenses for bribes, politicking on the taxpayers' dime - the stuff that ultimately landed our former governor's tail in a sling.

Is adopting a resolution in support of a school district referendum politicking on the taxpayers' dime? Is it akin to a state-supported boss telling an underling to forget about that infrastructure project today; instead, how about making 30 calls to drum up support for Candidate X or Issue Y?

I can't wait for a court to decide that one because I cannot imagine that this law ever was intended for the type of complaint filed this week against the Woodstock City Council.

Ruth Schlossberg can't wait, either.

Schlossberg is an attorney with Crystal-Lake based Zukowski, Rogers, Flood and McArdle, which represents Woodstock.

"We just don't believe the law is meant to silence elected officials," she said. "That would be a prior restraint. It would violate the First Amendment.

"To say that elected officials can't comment on policy matters that are legitimately before them ... they're elected to comment on these matters. That's their job."

It is indeed troublesome that the Woodstock ethics commission lacks a member, meaning that one must be appointed before the violation allegation can be addressed. City officials said that couldn't be accomplished until March 21.

That's the date of the election.

It's not unusual for people for or against a proposition or candidate to throw up a legal volley just before an election. People have agendas. And some will do just about anything to try to gain an advantage for their side.

I almost hope this issue winds up in the courts. Clarification is required to put a stop to this.

- Cyndi Klapperich is the Northwest Herald's north bureau editor. She can be reached at (815) 385-0170, (815) 338-1300 or cklapperich@nwherald.com.

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