Friday, May 1, 2009

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cha cha guide

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The Chicago Housing Authority's abrupt move to close the LeClaire Courts development came after a secret vote by the agency's board, which government watchdog groups are calling a violation of the state's open meetings law.

CHA Commissioner Hallie Amey told the Daily News that the board discussed LeClaire in closed session and that the matter came to a vote.

Natalie Saffold, who heads the LeClaire Local Advisory Council says another commissioner gave her a similar account after last week's board meeting.

Saffold says Commissioner Samuel Mendenhall told her the board voted during a portion of the meeting that was closed to the public, and that he and two other commissioners had been in favor of keeping LeClaire open. The remaining five commissioners voted to close the complex, Saffold says.

The Illinois Open Meetings Act requires that final action by public bodies like the CHA board must be taken in public.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says the whole point of laws like the Open Meetings Act is to allow the public to participate in the decisions of government agencies. When they operate behind closed doors, says Dalglish, it violates the public’s trust.

“Not only is it unethical, it's illegal,” says Dalglish. “I would hope that the residents of that particular housing project howl, scream and kick in a really loud and obnoxious way.”

In addition to the vote, open government experts say the agency's decision to discuss the closure in a non-public session was inappropriate.

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