EDGAR CO. (ECWd) -
Public Access (Binding) Opinion 13-006
Late in the afternoon of May 13, 2013, the Illinois Attorney General’s office posted the binding opinion in reference to the secret ballot held by the Edgar County Airport Advisory board in which they took action, as a result of the secret ballot, to recommend Adonna Bennett, to the county board to fill the vacant advisory board seat.
During the February 12, 2013 Airport board meeting, during the secret ballot process I informed Ben Jenness that a secret ballot was illegal. His response to me was that the County Clerk told them they could do it that way. The County Clerk denied any such advice when I asked him the following day.
During the Edgar County Board Meeting, during public session, we voiced our opinion that the ballot was an illegal ballot. Chris Patrick later entertained a motion, based on the recommendation of the airport advisory board, to appoint Adonna Bennett to that empty seat.
Two people filed complaints with the Illinois Attorney General Public Access Counselor (PAC), resulting in an investigation into the allegations.
Analysis of the Action
Responses to the PAC’s inquiry resulted in almost identical letters from Jimmy Wells and Chris Patrick. Both letters claiming it was a “straw poll” in which the board did not take final action. The PAC found that is was clearly a final action taken by the board, and not a preliminary, informal procedure to gauge support or opposition for specific candidates. Therefore the vote was subject to the Open Meetings Act (OMA).
Attorney General Kerner, in 1933, addressed the secret ballot problem when he stated:
“Of what avail is an open door to the public if the proceedings are secret. The eye can see, the ear can hear, but secrecy conceals all. It is no advantage to the citizen to see a member secretly write a name on a ballot unless he is privileged to read what is thereon written. If the vote were taken by whispering in tones so low the attending citizen could not hear, how would he know what is being done. If no record is made of how the individual members vote, of what avail is the statute providing for an open meeting with open doors.”
The Attorney General states: “By using secret ballots to select a candidate to recommend to the County Board to fill a vacant seat on the Advisory Board, the Advisory Board violated section 2(e) of the Open Meetings Act.”
Section 2(e) of the OMA read:
“Final Action. No final action may be taken at a closed meeting. Final action shall be preceded by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and other information that will inform the public of the business being conduction.”
My reading of this is that the PAC has characterized a secret ballot the same as a closed meeting.
“That the Advisory Board is directed to hold all future meetings in full compliance with the OMA.”
Isn’t that what we have been asking for all along? The OMA is not that hard to understand, a person only has to have a willingness to read and follow the laws/statutes.
What Will Happen Next?
Will the county board do the right thing and void that appointment, re-voting at a later meeting?
Or will they just disregard what should happen and continue as if everything is OK?