MARSHALL, IL. (ECWd) –
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Using the Illinois Municipal League to Justify Illegal and Improper Activity
I always try to keep my sense of humor about things I research and this topic is no different. As I was researching this subject, unknown to me the Edgar County Watchdogs were at the same time doing some research (another word for investigating) into matters involving the Village of Chatham, IL, whose Mayor Thomas Grey is also currently President of the Illinois Municipal League (IML). Let me assure you that experience has taught me that the Edgar County Watchdogs don’t waste time on correct behavior.
Originally I wanted to talk to the staff attorney of the IML but the receptionist on the phone said she had gone back into private practice. However, I could go onto their inquiry site and e-mail my question in and the Executive Director would call me. I filled out the e-mail form and asked whomever to reply to the e-mail. Instead I got a phone call. They want your questions on e-mail but won’t answer by e-mail. Since you cannot record a phone call in Illinois, there’s no verifiable record of what was said.
While I did not talk to Mr. Grey, I did talk to Brad Cole, Executive Director of the Illinois Municipal League at some length over the telephone. He was not happy with the conversation because he kept saying I was trying to twist what he said. All I was doing was try to get an exact answer to my questions and he did not want to do that. All I wanted was a straightforward honest answer in written form. In fact, that refusal to be exact tells me much about the character of the organization’s legal assistance. It also creates a situation that can be used against common people who are not aware of the deviousness of lawyers and municipal leaders.
I was trying to find an explanation for a problem that has repeatedly come up in Marshall City matters and I was asking for some written guidelines as to who may talk to the IML attorneys and how to verify the statements given out by municipals attorneys and other municipal officials as to whether those statements are IML legal opinions. It turns out there are none and you can’t. The only way the IML will give (If they offer an opinion) a legal opinion is in writing. Any verbal opinion stated by any municipal attorney after a conversation with an IML legal person is not the IML’s opinion. It is the attorney’s opinion. The same goes for an elected official who talks to IML staff. A private citizen or elected official after hearing an opinion given by an elected official who claimed he talked to the IML cannot confirm or deny what the IML person said.
The problem the IML has is that the only side of a question they would hear is that of the municipal attorney; so therefore they can’t give guidance except concerning what they are told. The fact that I, a two-term alderman, can speak to the Executive Director says something good.
The unstated problem is that there are numbers of attorneys and elected officials who will (the best word is LIE) use the IML name to sway and/or bluff individuals (or entire city councils) or State and county officials who don’t know that an IML opinion can only be had in written form into an improper decision. This abuse has happened in the past that I have personally seen. Lord only knows how much it has been misused all over the state.
Here are two documented examples of misuse by a mayor and a municipal attorney: The Mayor of Marshall wrote a letter this year attempting to downgrade my character and testimony to members of the Illinois Legislature while I was in the process of testifying before the Illinois Legislative Committees amending the Open Meetings Act. One of the passages stated “My administration checked with … (a list of officials)… and IML Legal Counsel. All these entities agreed”…. . After Governor Rauner signed the bill into law, I requested by e-mail “the name of the IML Legal Counsel who was consulted (according to the letter), Date consulted, and copy of such advice given.” His answer in reply was “I do not remember who I talked to at the IML. It was around the same time.” While he wrote that he talked to the IML in a letter to the Illinois Legislature, he has no record of a name or anything to verify conversation.
The second is a classic by City of Marshall city attorney whose actions and statements resulted in articles on the internet Watchdog site and Disclosure News. The incident involves justifying illegal expenditure of public funds by using city employee labor on a privately owned and chartered cemetery some distance outside city limits (State Cemetery Oversight Board now investigating). The city attorney Richard James made no mention of anything about the Illinois Municipal League in his written opinion to me and other city aldermen. However, during the appropriations and council meeting, he did state verbally (digitally recorded) and reported in the local newspaper meeting report “Mr. James said that he had contacted the Illinois Municipal League: “They share the opinion it’s a public purpose.” The Watchdog report: “however, when we called the IML and talked to Jennifer Johnson, she told me that they do not give legal advice, but that she had talked to James.” (This was before Jennifer returned to private practice).
I asked this letter be placed on the Edgar County Watchdogs site as a letter to the editor so the public as well as elected officials know that if some attorney or other person says they are backed by the opinion of the Illinois Municipal League, they better have it in writing or it ain’t so.
Alderman, City of Marshall