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Winfield to release tapes from executive-session meetings about police cuts

Published: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 6:42 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:52 p.m. CST

WINFIELD – Winfield residents soon will know what was said in a series of executive-session meetings about the potential outsourcing of police department services, as village leaders prepare to release the audio recordings and minutes from those gatherings.

After the Illinois Attorney General's Office cited three meetings from March and April 2012 as being in violation of the Open Meetings Act, the Winfield Village Board of Trustees agreed to release records from those meetings at a board meeting Feb. 6.

Taking this push for transparency one step further at a Committee of the Whole meeting Feb. 20, trustees said they are in favor of making public the audio tapes of all executive discussions related to the police department topic.

"Now I think the board needs to release what we said and what we did," Trustee James Hughes said. "We need to make this right."

Although this next step was discussed, a formal vote to release the additional tapes still needs to take place.

From June 2011 until April 2012, village trustees met about the possibility of disbanding its police department in favor of outsourcing services to the DuPage County Sheriff's Office as a cost-cutting measure.

The topic was a contentious one, and officials warned that the meeting recordings could contain colorful language and frank discussions that may reflect negatively on some of those involved.

"When you talk about releasing those all now so that the public can catch up, I think that ought to be taken with great care," Village Manager Curt Barrett said.

Village President Erik Spande, who said he has listened to the closed-session recordings twice, urged his colleagues to review the material in question before they take a vote on whether to release all of the tapes.

However, he said he is in favor of making them public.

"I think that what this will do is it will make us accountable for our words and our actions," Spande said.

The question of whether it was appropriate to hold the meetings in executive session depends on how the topic of outsourcing the police department should be classified, officials said. Personnel issues are typically discussed behind closed doors, but since the police issue would have affected an entire department, the Illinois Attorney General's Office determined it would not be considered a personnel exclusion from the Open Meetings Act.

At the time when the meetings took place, village leaders were advised by legal counsel that holding these talks in executive session was allowed, officials said.

In addition to releasing audio tapes and minutes from the meetings, the village also will explore having an outside company develop transcripts of each discussion with help from village staff, as most trustees said they were in favor of doing so at the Feb. 20 meeting.

Winfield will work on releasing records from the three meetings cited by the Illinois Attorney General's Office as quickly as possible and use that task to gauge the time and money that will be required to do the same for each of the other meetings, Barrett said.

"I can't wait for the truth to be released," Trustee Tony Reyes said. "I can't wait for people to hear the truth about what was said and what we were trying to do."

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Watch online

Missed the meetings? Watch the Feb. 6 and 20 meeting videos at www.villageofwinfield.com/MediaCenter.aspx to see the Village Board discuss whether to release the executive-session records.

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