Home Business Highland Park councilmember claims Open Meetings Act violation during Feb. 12 liquor license discussion

Highland Park councilmember claims Open Meetings Act violation during Feb. 12 liquor license discussion

Highland Park councilmember claims Open Meetings Act violation during Feb. 12 liquor license discussion

Two weeks after the Highland Park City Council did not amend a restriction in its municipal code that forestalls liquor-license holders from serving as an elected official, Jeff Hoobler, the councilmember at the middle of those discussions, responded on Monday by criticizing the council, mayor, and other city staff for a way the discussions were conducted. Hoobler, a first-term councilmember elected in April 2023, is the co-owner of Highland Park’s Ravinia Brewing Company. He received probably the most votes, 2,355, or 21.84 percent, in a five-person candidate field for 3 council seats. Highland Park’s municipal code, which relies on the post-Prohibition Illinois Liquor Control Act, doesn’t allow elected officials to carry liquor licenses. Amendments to the state law do allow communities with 55,000 residents or fewer — Highland Park has around 30,000 residents — to rescind that restriction. After the law was dropped at the eye of city staff, councilmembers discussed an amendment to alter the municipal code on Monday, Feb. 12, nevertheless it failed when the council split 3-3. Mayor Nancy Rotering and Councilmembers Kim Stone and Anthony Blumberg dissented. Hoobler didn’t vote. Rotering didn’t respond during Monday’s meeting to Hoobler’s criticism. ‘Slanderous statements and distortions’ On Monday, Feb. 26, Hoobler read an announcement where he said, as a substitute of discussing the amendment, the discussion was about him and his actions, calling it an “ethics tribunal” held improperly Quoting from an announcement made by City Manager Ghida Neukirch, Hoobler said the agenda item regarding the amendment change was “to permit for robust discussion on the town council and about city policy,” as a substitute of a discussion about any particular person or situation. Hoobler said councilmembers didn’t stay on task. “In the intervening time the problem modified, and each time it lapsed back to ethics, the town’s legal counsel must have stepped up and brought me back to the room so I could address the problems directly and defend myself with respect to the ethics discussion, but they didn’t,” Hoobler said. “This was a failure of the mayor, the town manager, and company counsel. They allowed this to occur without me being present, without proper notice per the Open Meetings Act.” The City of Highland Park didn’t immediately reply to Hoobler’s allegations. Hoobler went on to say, “My status has been tarnished, nasty inferences and comparisons made and now, two weeks later, I’m able to answer the allegations, slanderous statements, and distortions of the facts made by members of the City Council.” In his statement, Hoobler defended his participation in prior business and liquor-related council considerations — a subject the council discussed on Feb. 12 — by citing a conversation he had with City Attorney Steve Elrod before he took office. “Mr. Elrod stated that, typically, I should err on the side of not recusing myself because it pertains to the discussion of business matters of the town, including business incentive programs, outdoor dining issues, and anything related to restaurants so long as the matter discussed shouldn’t be directly about my two Highland Park businesses,” Hoobler said. “He stated that the voters of Highland Park, him being one, elected me to bring my expertise and viewpoints as a business restaurant owner to the City Council, so I mustn’t feel forced to recuse myself from those discussions.” Elrod confirmed that Hoobler’s summary of their discussions was correct. Hoobler brought up the statement “Together Highland Park Unidos,” or “Together Highland Park United,” which was adopted by the town’s Resiliency Division following the July 4, 2022, shooting, saying he was “very impressed with the thoughtfulness of the statement and the message it conveyed. “Nonetheless, it’s grow to be clear that the leadership in Highland Park and the council are anything but together and united. The actions of this council to try to scapegoat one in all their members as unethical were clearly done for political gain, and that only serves to divide this community.” Hoobler continued that he’ll live as much as the ideals of the statement and in addition thanked those that spoke in support of him on the Feb. 12 meeting. “I selected to serve the voters of Highland Park because we knew the town needs change,” he said. “That message was not at all times well-received by some, nevertheless it’s a message I imagine in. You and the opposite Highland Park residents have made it clear that you just want me to proceed to serve, and I appreciate all of that whatever the final consequence.” Fellow councilmembers respond Hoobler was not the one councilmember to deal with the conversation in the course of the Feb. 12 council sessions. Councilmember Anthony Blumberg spoke first, apologizing to Hoobler for “regrettably” using former U.S. Rep. George Santos’ name when discussing the role of election commissions. Santos was expelled from the House of Representatives in late 2023 for fabricating his credentials and withholding his criminal history. “In my effort to clarify that election commissions will not be liable for determining the qualifications of the candidates, I made a reference to a former Recent York congressman for example,” he said. “And unfortunately, within the context of the greater conversation, I inadvertently insulted my colleague, Councilmember Hoobler. I don’t feel that way about you, I respect you, I appreciate your participation here, and I’m very sorry.” Hoobler thanked Blumberg for his apology. For the subsequent two speakers, Hoobler recused himself and left the room because he was told they “might be discussing matters impacting the manufacture, sale, or distribution of alcohol.” Councilmember Annette Lidawer, who introduced the proposed amendment to the municipal code and voted for its approval Feb. 12, said she was “troubled that the committee of the entire digressed into an ethics discussion where one council member’s ethics were discussed without the good thing about all of the facts as to what standards were communicated to him.” Lidawer and Neukirch said the City Council might be discussing ethics at an April 8 committee of the entire meeting, where Lidawer said the board will “examine a few of our ethics guidelines” and invited the general public to attend “as corporation counsel will assist us within the context where all questions might be aired by our entire body.” Regarding the amendment, Lidawer said she hopes the City Council will bring it up for one more vote in the long run after conducting more research. Specifically, she asked the corporation counsel to look into other municipalities which have discussed changing their liquor laws, specifically “what’s the compelling interest the present law is protecting and why other towns which have considered this law concluded that amending it to require the recusal of a City Council member adequately addressed those compelling interests.” “I sit up for reconsideration and study of this issue, a more respectful and collegial work effort between the members of the City Council and the furtherance of all city business,” she added. Councilmember Andrés Tapia, who also voted for the amendment, shared his thoughts on what happened on the Feb. 12 meetings and said there’s a “division inside our own City Council.” If we were in a position to put the problem to rest by in search of the trail of grace, we remove the vice grip of confrontation that’s asphyxiating all of us.” Andres Tapia, Highland Park councilmember He said the discussions and vote that happened two weeks earlier were a “stalemate, and never a resolved issue since it didn’t address the actual dilemma. And this unresolved dilemma is clearly hurting our community.” Tapia said that he feels the City Council is in a “win-lose” mindset and that he believes it needs to alter its mentality. “Imagine if we were to pause and never force one another to agree on the ‘right’ or ‘flawed’ of this issue, but as a substitute discover a solution to agree that crucial thing we wish to seek out is probably the most healing response,” Tapia said. “The one which, even within the midst of the mental disagreement on the problem at hand, if we were in a position to put the problem to rest by in search of the trail of grace, we remove the vice grip of confrontation that’s asphyxiating all of us.” Tapia said “hate, division, polarization, and confrontation on the national level” are “tearing our country apart.” “Are we actually going to permit this liquor ordinance issue to divide us in such a painful way when there are a lot of more existential threats we must come together to beat?” he asked. “It’s our responsibility, us, the leaders of the City Council, to steer our community, not in a way that leaves us pitted against one another, but as a substitute helps us find common cause and unite.” The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism. 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