On July 11, East Dubuque, Ill., Mayor Kirk VanOstrand was involved in a physical altercation outside of a Sinsinawa Avenue bar.
More than seven weeks later, it is unclear if all details of the altercation have emerged.
We know that the other man involved in the incident, Scott Montgomery, of East Dubuque, took responsibility for instigating the fight, saying he inappropriately “grabbed” the mayor inside the bar. VanOstrand then followed him outside, threw him to the ground and shouted at him.
We know this because we attended the City Council meeting where the matter was discussed.
We know the police were called to the scene. But seven weeks later, no police report has been made available.
On the multiple occasions that the Telegraph Herald has requested the document and inquired about the details of the incident, the city has stonewalled.
East Dubuque officials have said documents pertaining to the incident do not have to be released because the investigation is ongoing.
City Manager Loras Herrig said more than six weeks ago that any further investigation into the incident would be conducted by the Jo Daviess County Sheriff’s Department. But Sheriff Kevin Turner has repeatedly said that he has not been contacted by officials from the city in relation to the incident.
This might well be a minor incident that got a little out of hand. Still, citizens have a right to know the basic facts and circumstances of an altercation that prompted a police response.
That information would be available for any similar event involving a private citizen. Why would the mayor’s case be any different?
This, after all, is the same community that was embroiled in controversy in the summer of 2018 when city officials withheld information from the public. City Manager Geoff Barklow and Assistant Police Chief Gerald Fluhr were both subjects of Illinois State Police investigations into complaints of unwanted sexual advances.
It wasn’t until the TH filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents and published a story that the public knew anything about these investigations. Ultimately, Fluhr resigned, citizens demanded Barklow’s ouster and the council complied, and the then-mayor tendered his resignation soon after. Trust was broken with the citizens. The credibility of key city employees was damaged.
Then, 2019 brought a change in leadership to East Dubuque, with VanOstrand elected mayor, Herrig hired as city manager after having filled in on an interim basis and, most recently, Luke Kovacic named police chief following Steve O’Connell’s retirement.
Those changes could have brought about a new approach to leadership in East Dubuque — one illuminated by transparency and openness with citizens. This incident with VanOstrand and an investigation that might or might not be underway does not indicate any such evolution is afoot.
It’s not too late.
East Dubuque officials should make public the police report and deal with any fallout as necessary. The citizens of East Dubuque made it clear last summer that they expect transparency from local officials. It’s a reasonable expectation, and East Dubuque officials should comply.