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Oak Lawn ethics debate focuses on bedfellows

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013 10:52 a.m. CST

OAK LAWN (MCT) — Political bedfellows are the typical target of ethics laws, but one official in south suburban Oak Lawn is interested in actual bedfellows.

Village Board members' discussion of government ethics took an intimate turn recently, as longtime Trustee Robert Streit pointed out that a new conflict of interest policy adopted by the village would not require unmarried Mayor Sandra Bury to disclose any romantic relationships with people doing work for the village.

"The ordinance had a definition for relative that went to great lengths to define relationships," Streit said. "It included every possible relationship you could imagine, but it didn't include the mayor's relationships."

Streit noted changes to the village ethics ordinance require elected officials and village staff to disclose when they have a financial stake in a village contract or when a relative, spouse or "domestic partner" is involved with village business. Streit wanted to make that last category include boyfriends, girlfriends, and cohabitators.

Streit's motion to send the ordinance back to committee for revisions failed. The ordinance passed unanimously last week, without any of the changes Streit requested.

Bury said this week that she is single, and spends most of her free time caring for her 93-year-old father and her disabled brother. She does live with a pair of parrots.

"I could cuddle with them, but I think they would mostly bite me," said Bury, who said she hasn't dated in years and resented Streit "targeting me as a single woman."

The mayor, who has sparred frequently with Streit since taking office this spring, fired back at the meeting that the ordinance might also extend to extra-marital paramours.

Streit said he would have no objection because he's a "happily married man."

While it's easy to define family relations, business partners and couples whose relationships are made official by marriage or civil union, more casual relationships can get difficult, said Northwestern University law professor Nadav Shoked.

"You have to define 'boyfriend.' How? On eating together? Or sexual relationships? And more than one dinner or more than one sexual relationship?" Shoked said, adding that enforcing a boyfriend disclosure ordinance might require surveillance.

Attorneys for the village modeled the ordinance after Chicago's ethics ordinance and said that no current contracts with the village — or relationships with village officials — would appear to violate the new rules.

(c)2013 the Chicago Tribune Distributed by MCT Information Services

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