Cold, snow and hangover aside, the Jan. 1 date that the Illinois Open Meetings Act starts requiring governments to write meeting agendas that somewhat describe what's going to happen can't come fast enough.
Waiting for me on my desk this morning, courtesy of Assistant News Editor Joan Oliver, was the agenda for the Aug. 30 special meeting of the Lakemoor Village Board. Under new business, the board plans:
"Discussion and approval to an amendment to ordinance 10-O-22."
I'm going to guess that village residents don't know what ordinance 10-O-22 is. I know my village's ordinances – how high my lawn can get and when I can water my lilac bush – but if you told me I was in violation of village ordinance THX-1138 or K-9-P or ID-10-T, I'd be scratching my head.
So, I decided to visit Lakemoor's website to look up its ordinances. But the page listing the village's ordinances is "under development and will be available soon. Please check back later!"
A little Internet snooping led me to find that 10-O-22 apparently has something to do with the number of Class C liquor licenses in town.
So I placed a call to the very nice lady who answers the phone at village hall, who confirmed what I found, but did not know what the village board is planning to do.
Will the village board increase the number of licenses? Decrease them? Does this have anything to do with the controversial issue of video poker in liquor establishments? I have no idea, and neither does anyone who reads the agenda for the meeting.
Board members at this meeting also plan to appoint the new chief of police (the fifth in three years for those of you keeping track at home). "Appointments: Chief of Police" is an adequate description, I guess, but if they told us who this new person is, they would have to kill us.
Sure, I could call the village president on down to get the answers to these agenda questions. That's normal for a journalist paid to write about such things. But I think it's unacceptable to make the taxpayers paying the freight jump through such hoops.
This kind of stuff is why Gov. Pat Quinn last month signed a law that, as of 2013, will require government meeting agendas to adequately describe matters officials intend to vote on. (I blogged about it and why it's needed here, and you can read the text of the bill here.)
Of course, the definition of descriptive is in the eyes of the beholder. An official fluent in Governmentese (I blogged about how government jargon impedes transparency here) may think that listing ordinances 10-O-22, THX-1138 or ID-10-T is perfectly adequate.
Come Jan. 1, though, we the people can ask the Attorney General's Office to weigh in if we beg to differ. Methinks we will have to file such requests for review to get some kind of guidelines on what is descriptive and what is not – the sad truth is that Illinois governments do their best to explore the legal limits of our sunshine laws in keeping information away from us.
(As an aside, my reference to the infamous ID-10-T form was a shout out to all my fellow veterans who were ordered as young enlisted men and women to go fill out the form so they could go to the quartermaster for 50 feet of chow line, keys to the drop zone, a bucket of propeller wash and a box of landing strips.)
Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.