Gregory Gates has a fire pit in his Brookfield backyard. In April, the police paid a visit and told him it was against the law.
That stunned Gates. Heck, there were fire pits all over the neighborhood and he’d been using his for years without a hint of a problem. Yet, there’s a law on the books that clearly makes fire pits illegal. Grills, too, though the village has never sought to enforce that aspect.
A month later, the police department delivered some options for a fire pit law based on examples from nearby communities. The go-ahead was given to the village attorney to draft an amended ordinance regarding open burning.
It took more than a month for that draft ordinance to get back to the board table and when it did, it confounded trustees.
But if trustees were confounded, imagine what people watching that deliberation on June 22 thought.
Their main question would have been, “Why is this so hard?”
The problem was that the new ordinance drafted by the village’s attorney lumped together fire pits and outdoor grills used for cooking. The village wanted to make explicitly clear that grills were not prohibited. In doing so, the new law would have subjected them to the same restrictions as fire pits.
It should have been an easy problem to solve. Trustees offered some half-formed language, looking for the village’s attorney to come up with the correct language. Trustee Michael Garvey apologized for putting the attorney on the spot.
That’s OK, Mike, being put on the spot regarding legal advice is part of the attorney’s job. He ought to be able to handle it.
Failing that, however, if trustees knew they had this issue walking into the meeting, why didn’t they come prepared to offer language that would have clarified this issue? This is the way it works for other village boards.
Laws don’t come to the board table completely formed. Often they need small tweaks, and trustees are perfectly within their rights to suggest specific changes to the language and make motions for that language to be adopted.
But it’s like pulling teeth to get trustees to say whether they actually agree with moving ahead or not. It sure looked like it, but no one ever said the words, “I support this change in general, if we can fix this bit about the grills” or “I don’t support allowing fire pits.”
Why is this so hard to do?
In the 1982 move Diner, a character named Modell wants the sandwich belonging to a guy named Eddie. But instead of asking directly, Modell hints around and hedges, which drives Eddie nuts.
Eventually, Eddie blurts out, “Just say the words!”
Sometimes watching the Brookfield Village Board is like watching paralysis in action. Instead of a trustee staking out a position, there are suggested tweaks that never actually get discussed and half-hearted offers to change language that aren’t fully formed. Then everyone looks at each other until someone asks the attorney, who suggests tabling the matter.
Just say the words.