Confession time in Des Plaines: End this taxpayer-funded game of Clue

What began last summer as a proposed change to a Des Plaines ethics ordinance has mushroomed into a full blown game of Clue with lie detector tests being administered.We'll go ahead and guess. It was Colonel Mustard with the wrench in the library. And, now...

Confession time in Des Plaines: End this taxpayer-funded game of Clue

What began last summer as a proposed change to a Des Plaines ethics ordinance has mushroomed into a full blown game of Clue with lie detector tests being administered.

We'll go ahead and guess. It was Colonel Milanobet Mustard with the wrench in the library.

And, now that we've suggested a culprit, here's the underlying mystery:

Members of the Des Plaines City Council want to know who, in June, gave internal legal documents that named one of the aldermen to a Daily Herald reporter. The reporter, while writing about an ethics ordinance proposal by Mayor Matt Bogusz, was given paperwork on lawsuits filed against the city. The reporter later said he received the documents from an elected official and a city employee, declining to name them; the records had been given to him confidentially.

The documents weren't terribly explosive, but they did include some detail about a workers' compensation case involving Ald. James Brookman. Brookman receives weekly compensation from the city for an injury he incurred years ago as a Des Plaines firefighter.

The mayor apparently hadn't been aware of the workers' comp case between Brookman and the city, and he wanted to beef up ethics statements that elected officials must submit annually. The mayor wanted public officials to have to disclose whether they had sued, or were involved in lawsuits or complaints against, the city. If so, they would have to recuse themselves from certain votes on legal matters.

Soon after the mayor introduced his proposal, the Daily Herald published a story about it that included information about Brookman's workers' comp case.

How did the newspaper get that information, Brookman and others wanted to know? Nobody would say.

So the game of Clue began. When Brookman and his allies on the council pressed for more info, everybody clammed up. According to news stories, no elected officials or staff members would come forward as the leaker.

Des Plaines Fifth Ward Alderman James Brookman Lee V. Gaines / For the Chicago Tribune Des Plaines Fifth Ward Alderman James Brookman Des Plaines Fifth Ward Alderman James Brookman (Lee V. Gaines / For the Chicago Tribune)

The inquisitive council members stepped up their quest. They approved a contract with an outside firm to investigate the matter at a cost of $30,000. The firm doing the work later asked for another $10,000 to conduct lie detector tests on elected officials and staff.

Can you say, overreaction?

The mayor vetoed the idea of coughing up another $10,000. So some council members voluntarily took lie detector tests and paid for them out of pocket. The firm's inquiry, meanwhile, remains ongoing. Our takeaways:

•Demanding that ethics disclosures include a question about legal action was an overreach by the mayor. Most litigation involving public bodies — Brookman's situation included — can easily be gleaned from public records.

•Let's cut the Watergate-esque hyperbole. Even Brookman has said the records that were released did not violate his medical privacy but rather included strategy about his case that was protected by attorney-client privilege. He also says he settled his matter in 2009.

•Whoever did turn over the records should have confessed right away. The elected official and staff member, if they violated the city's ethics code, could have been reprimanded or disciplined.

•Hiring an outside firm at taxpayer expense to expose the sources of the information, and invoking lie detector tests as a cudgel, strikes us as wildly out of step with the alleged wrongdoing. Clue is fun but in this Des Plaines version, nobody even pretend-died.

This game needs to end. Fess up, elected official and staff member. Admit you were wrong to lie by omission or commission — that is, by not coming forward sooner. Explain that once the story snowballed, you panicked and didn't accept responsibility for your involvement.

It's been a while since we've written an editorial that felt like a "Just grow up!" response from Ask Amy.

But here we've got adults essentially saying "Gonna getcha!" And we've got a couple of public servants who also are acting like children. Whoever you are, tell the truth. End the suspicion of poor Colonel Mustard.

Join the discussion on Twitter @Trib_Ed_Board and on Facebook.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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