Joliet City Council leak a political whodunit
By bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org January 8, 2014 9:08PM
It’s not known who leaked sensitive information to the other side in Joliet’s nine-year-long lawsuit against the owners of a public housing complex, but allegedly it was a city council member.
Councilman John Gerl said the council was told that one of its members allegedly delivered a confidential document related to the Evergreen Terrace legal case to the owners of the apartment complex.
Gerl said the city attorney told the council someone on the side of Evergreen Terrace’s ownership reported “that the document was given to them by a city council member.”
“The only thing I know for certain is it wasn’t me,” he said.
The matter has been referred to the Will County state’s attorney’s office, although it’s not clear that anything illegal happened to warrant an investigation. Council members contacted by Sun-Times Media, however, agreed that something disturbing happened, if the allegation is true.
“That information was given to us by our corporate counsel in confidence,” Gerl said. “I look it as if one of the coaches was giving the other team the playbook.”
The alleged breach of confidence became public knowledge Tuesday when Mayor Thomas Giarrante disclosed it at the end of a city council meeting and announced that he had asked the state’s attorney to investigate.
Giarrante called the delivery of the document to Evergreen Terrace ownership a “shameful act” and an “unprecedented betrayal to the residents of Joliet.”
While Giarrante’s statement suggested that a council member had provided the document to Evergreen Terrace’s owners, he did not directly say it.
Councilman Michael Turk confirmed Gerl’s account that City Attorney Jeff Plyman told members that one of its members allegedly delivered the document, which was provided to council members during a closed session to discuss the Evergreen Terrace lawsuit. Turk said he was not the leaker.
It’s not clear what harm, if any, was done to the city’s case by sharing the document, which was Plyman’s overview of a pending settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a co-defendant with Evergreen Terrace’s owners in the case.
Joliet’s lawsuit seeks to acquire the 356-unit apartment complex for low-income residents that is federally subsidized but privately owned. City officials say the complex has been badly managed, resulting in substandard living conditions and crime.
The settlement was reached in November and took HUD out of the case — removing a key legal ally for the owners and one that had exerted pressure on Joliet by holding back federal housing funds.
But the possibility that a council member would feed information to the other side in a major case raises questions as to why.
“Not only is there a breach of the closed session, there’s a breach of trust here,” Councilwoman Jan Quillman said. “What’s going on here? Who did it? Why did they do it?”
It wasn’t her, Quillman said. And Councilman Larry Hug said it wasn’t him either. Hug said the mayor was too quick to go public on the matter before it could be investigated.
Hug said a HUD lawyer told Plyman that the lawyer “was told by an attorney from ownership that (ownership) has a document that he believed came from a council member.” But that’s not enough evidence to determine what happened, Hug said.
Councilman Terry Morris said he wasn’t behind the leak and doesn’t think anyone on the council was either.
“I just believe it was a tactic to get the council divided on the issue and to see where we’re at,” Morris said.
Councilman Robert O’Dekirk was quick to deny that he did it after Giarrante made his statement Monday and said the mayor’s comments could be taken to imply that it was O’Dekirk, a political foe of the mayor, who leaked the document.
“I’ve been outspoken about Evergreen Terrace,” he said. “I’ve raised a lot of questions. Certainly the inference is that it was someone who opposed the project.”
Councilman Jim McFarland could not be reached Wednesday for comment. Councilwoman Susie Barber, who has not been to a council meeting since Aug. 19 because of poor health, said she was not aware of the mayor’s statement about the alleged leak and was not the leaker.