The City of Naperville has four task forces highlighted on its website. Two of these task forces have become well known in town and make regular appearances before council. Both were created to further very worthy policy aims. One is the Senior Task Force which was created to serve as a voice and advocate for our area seniors on local matters. The other is the Naperville Environmental Sustainability Task Force (NEST). This task force serves as a voice and advocate for furthering environmental sustainability in our community. NEST weighs in regularly at City Council meetings on agenda items.
These “task forces” were not created as City commissions, in large part, because if they were they would then have to adhere to the Open Meetings Act. Their meetings would have to be open to the public. Minutes would have to be taken which would have to be available to the public by FOIA. The City would have to have staff assigned to the commissions so there would also be payroll costs involved.
So, on the surface, it makes sense to avoid all of this bureaucracy and let these groups act as a task force.
Well, maybe not.
The negatives associated with going the “task force” route are many and are now an even larger concern as Council is considering creating yet another task force by dissolving the Sister City commission and turning it into a task force. Neither the public – nor council – has any say on who runs these task forces or who serves on their boards (if they even have boards). The City has no say on when these task forces meet or what their agenda items and policy objectives will be. The City also has no say on who can attend these meetings or who can be involved in the task force’s plans. These task forces look like a formal arm of the City to the public, but in reality they are not.
All transparency is removed when the body is formed as a task force. If these tasks forces are going to carry the name of the City and be presented to our community (and maybe now to other countries!) as official arms of the City there should be transparency as to what they are doing. By strong example, if one goes to the NEST website, you can’t find out who serves on this task force nor who runs it. Is this how the “Sister City Task Force” will operate too?
Watchdog Opinion: Not only should the City not create another new task force, continuing on with the current task forces, under their existing legal designs, raises many questions and merits review. Simply put, important City work and policy-making should not occur in secrecy. The last thing City Council should do is create another one of these “behind closed doors” commissions.