Most politicians clamor for any endorsement they can get. But I turned one down. Let me tell you why.
In December 2014, shortly after they invited me to participate in a mayoral candidate endorsement process, I advised the DG Professional Firefighters Union Local 3234 (“DGPFF”) that I respectfully declined to participate in that process because I believed it presented a conflict of interest and might run counter to the Village’s 2007 Ethics Ordinance, which prohibits Village officials from soliciting or receiving anything of substantial value from an organization doing business with the Village.
More specifically, in a December 19, 2014 email to the DGPFF, I applauded the organization’s civic involvement and acknowledged that I had received and celebrated the DGPFF’s endorsement in prior elections for the office of Village Commissioner. Moreover, serving as a Commissioner for eight years and then as Mayor for nearly four, I relayed my deep appreciation for the positive and professional working relationship that the Village Council and staff enjoy with the DGPFF.
However, in that same email, I also noted that, today, public distrust of government at many levels is at an all-time high. Although residents recognize what an excellent fire department we have, they are sensitive to any potential tax increases and expect impartial and above-board checks and balances to be in place. In the current environment, I am deeply concerned that our residents would take exception to candidates for Mayor — the Village’s chief executive officer — seeking and receiving the endorsement of a collective bargaining unit within the Village. Rightly or wrongly, the seeking and receiving of endorsements for that office may be perceived as a conflict of interest between persons who negotiate on behalf of the taxpayers and those who negotiate on behalf the local firefighters’ union. Indeed, in a similar setting, State Representative Ron Sandack aptly described in a recent Facebook post “the plain and unmistakable conflict that arises when public unions get governors elected via huge political contributions and electioneering; and then those very friendly parties meet at the collective bargaining table to ‘negotiate’ favorable contracts … at the taxpayers’ expense.”
Furthermore, and although not specifically applicable here, the Village Officials and Employee Ethics Act (the “2007 Ethics Ordinance”) and the Standard for Village Council Campaign Finance Practices policy (the “2007 Campaign Practices Policy”) that were both adopted in October 2007 provide additional guidance and reason for caution. Generally speaking, the Village’s 2007 Ethics Ordinance prohibits any Village official or employee from soliciting or receiving anything of substantial value from any individual or organization that does or seeks to do business with the Village. The ethics ordinance lists among the prohibited sources of such contributions anyone who has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or non-performance of the official duties of the Village officer or employee. The 2007 Campaign Practices Policy likewise prohibits the solicitation or receipt of campaign contributions from individuals or entities doing business with or seeking to do business with the Village. The spirit and intent of both the Ethics Ordinance and Campaign Practices Policy would similarly advise against the seeking or giving of any endorsements (which are presumably perceived as something of value to candidates) from or by a collective bargaining unit of the Village, which regularly does business with the Village and whose interests will be substantially affected by the performance of the official duties of Village councilmembers. Again, regardless of whether the Ethics Ordinance, Council policy, or any exceptions thereto actually apply here, we know too well that perception is often reality for many. We also pride ourselves on going above and beyond to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
While I salute the DGPFF’s civic engagement and its members’ courageous, dedicated service to our community, I advised them that I firmly believed it may do harm to the well-earned reputations of both their organization and my office for me, as the sitting Mayor, to participate in the DGPFF’s candidate endorsement process. Indeed, I feared it would send a very wrong message to the community. Therefore, in my December 19th email to the DGPFF, I advised them that I respectfully declined to participate. Of course, I assured the DGPFF that I did not want my decision to in any way undermine the excellent, professional relationship that we have built and enjoyed for many years. Indeed, I suggested that the DGPFF reconsider offering candidate endorsements for any Village elected offices for the reasons given above. But I received no response to either my suggestion or concerns.
Since then, an article appeared in the February 4, 2015 print edition of the Downers Grove Bugle announcing that the “Firefighters’ union endorses Neustadt.” This was odd, to begin with, since it failed to mention that I had declined to participate and that the person endorsed was the only one to seek the endorsement. Further, none of the conflict of interest or ethical issues were mentioned, much less addressed. Instead, the article stated that DGPFF “supports candidates who work to support the union.” The article went on to state that Mr. Neustadt was endorsed because he has stood by the union “at every turn” and “ha[s] their back every step of the way.” We should all be deeply concerned by my opponent’s disregard for the “plain and unmistakable” conflict of interest and ethical questions that his seeking and accepting the union’s endorsement presents.
Rest assured, while my opponent may have secured an endorsement that he alone sought by promising to “work to support the union,” I will work hard to support the best interests of the taxpayers of Downers Grove, while also continuing to foster a good working relationship with our exceptional firefighters. Please remember that when you go to the polls on April 7th. Please also know that I have your back.
Martin Tully – Mayor