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Proviso Probe

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

problem with Forest Park ethics commission

The Forest Park Review (Seth Stern) has an article on Forest Park's new ethics commission.

I'm a big fan of Seth, but I think he's got the penalties explained incorrectly in the article. Here's a quote from the ordinance:

8. The commission may fine any person who intentionally violates any provision of section 1-7-3 of this chapter in an amount not less than one thousand one dollars ($1,001.00) and not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000.00). The commission may fine any person who knowingly files a frivolous complaint alleging a violation of this chapter in an amount not less than one thousand one dollars ($1,001.00) and not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000.00). (emphasis added)

I wrote about this earlier, but I would not file a complaint if the ethics commissioners can fine me up to $5,000.

It's not that I think Mayor Calderone or Paul Barbahen are bad people, but there's no check on the power to fine complainants.

I'll include the letter I wrote to Rep. Karen Yarbrough in the comments.

The power for the ethics commission to levy fines is unnecessary because it's redundant with the criminal penalties for false complaints.


  • September 28, 2005

    The Honorable Karen A. Yarbrough
    State Representative
    2305 W. Roosevelt Rd.
    Broadview, IL 60155

    Dear Representative Yarbrough,

    I oppose the part of the Forest Park ethics ordinance that allows the ethics commissions to impose fines for “frivolous” complaints. “Frivolous” is a word open to wide interpretation and this portion of the ethics ordinance is redundant because other portions impose criminal penalties for knowingly filing a false complaint.

    As I understand the Forest Park ethics ordinance it comes from a sample ordinance written by the General Assembly. I request you modify the model ethics ordinance to eliminate the power of the ethics commission to fine complainants.

    As the ethics ordinance is written, I would not file a complaint because I do not want to risk a fine of over $1,000. The ethics commission is appointed by one person. There are no guarantees they aren’t stupid, corrupt or just plain wrong. The towns and villages with the most corrupt mayors will have the most corrupt ethics commissions. The municipalities with the greatest need will be the most dangerous places to file complaints.

    The criminal sanctions against a complainant have a higher burden of proof, but, more importantly, the penalties are imposed by independent parties. It has to be proved the complainant knew the allegations were false. The State’s Attorney has to be persuaded. And then s/he has to make the case to a judge and jury. Any penalties imposed have a number of checks-and-balances against abuse of power.

    In my mind the system should error on the side of investigating potential wrongdoing not on the side of discouraging complaints.

    Earlier I contacted Senator Don Harmon about this subject. Please coordinate with him on this matter.


    Carl Nyberg

    Copy to:
    The Honorable Don Harmon
    Seth Stern

    By Blogger Carl Nyberg, at 1:15 PM, September 28, 2005  

  • Again, I want to express my appreciation to Sen. Don Harmon calling me back promptly on this.

    He understood what I explained on the phone and began taking action before I even wrote him.

    By Blogger Carl Nyberg, at 1:18 PM, September 28, 2005  

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