Skokie dismisses ethics complaint filed by village council’s only independent administrator – Chicago Tribune
For the second time in 18 months, Skokie’s ethics committee dismissed a complaint from an independent village administrator who accused longtime mayor George Van Dusen and company lawyer Michael Lorge of breaches of the ethics.
Skokie Village Administrator James Johnson raised ethical concerns after Van Dusen and Lorge earlier this year proposed adding three referendum questions about environmental sustainability to the Nov. 8 ballot.
Johnson said the proposal was a blatant attempt to stop a group called the Skokie Alliance for Electoral Reform from ask your three referendum questions on the ballot. Illinois law allows a maximum of three referendum questions to appear on a ballot.
The Skokie Alliance’s three referendum questions ask voters if they want to change the way village officials are elected. We would create non-partisan elections; a second would allow partial geographical representation and a third would allow some directors to be elected every two years.
Referring to Van Dusen and Lorge’s proposal to fill all three ballots with the environmental sustainability referendum questions, Johnson said: “I filed the complaint because I know it’s wrong. I know it’s unethical. I can’t just sit here and pretend it didn’t happen, that’s how I felt my colleagues in the village council reacted.
But in an Oct. 12 letter to Johnson, Jonathan Minkus, chairman of the Skokie Village Ethics Committee, wrote that Johnson’s complaint “failed to establish probable cause that a violation of the ordinance on the ethics of the State or the village of Skokie has occurred in this matter”.
Van Dusen said Johnson’s perception was skewed. The mayor said he had no intention of blocking the Alliance referendum questions and that everything he was proposing was within the law. But in June, Van Dusen withdrew his attempt to add his referendum questions to the ballot.
“It was just too divisive and I took them out,” he said. “I haven’t done anything that smacks of anything even questionable.”
After Van Dusen withdrew its resolutions, the Skokie Alliance was able to add its referendum questions to the November 8 ballot.
“I have been saying from the start that we need to let the people of Skokie know that we are planning to put in place a spectacular sustainability plan and that they should have some kind of opportunity to express their opinion,” Van Dusen added. . “Each of those resolutions dealt with sustainability.”
Johnson said he was “saddened and disappointed” by the ethics committee’s decision.
“I wasn’t totally surprised, given that they dismissed my first complaint in a very similar way,” he said. “I think their checks and balances are failing us if something so egregious can happen.”
Johnson was elected to the Skokie Village Board as an Independent in 2021, and in April 2021, during his first week as a trustee, he asked the ethics committee to investigate his claims that, months earlier, Lorge and the company’s assistant attorney, Jim McCarthy, had tried to “bribe” him, in his own words, into not running for office. He said he was invited to Lorge’s home in Skokie in December 2020, where he was told he would get a position on a village commission if he did not file paperwork to stand as a candidate independent on the village council.
“They kept telling me that I had done everything the wrong way, that instead of running for office independently, I should have gone through them and the Skokie Caucus Party,” Johnson said. . “They talked about how they wanted me to sit on the Environmental Sustainability Commission. At one point, Michael Lorge said, ‘If you don’t hand in your paperwork tomorrow, we can do that.’ They talked about me as chairman of the committee.
The Skokie Caucus Party, to which both Van Dusen and Lorge belong, has successfully screened candidates for village council and the clerk’s office for decades. Van Dusen was first elected as a director in 1984; he became mayor in 1999, according to previous reports.
Johnson said he left the meeting feeling confused and was determined not to end his candidacy. He said Skokie’s ethics committee later wrote him a letter saying they found no evidence of unethical conduct on Lorge’s part.
Lorge did not respond to interview requests, but Van Dusen said he believed Johnson “misinterpreted” the conversation with Lorge.
“Michael Lorge is one of the most ethical and honest people I know and have ever known,” Van Dusen said. “His family has given a lot to this community. The accusation is ridiculous and the ethics commission found it. »