Coles Co. (ECWd) -
In just about every public body we get asked to look into, we know within the first few Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests if there is a problem. Coles county is not new to us as it relates to illegal acts and failure to hold people accountable. In fact, almost 2 years ago we wrote this article exposing a litany of wrong-doing and to date, those violators have been protected. In that article I asked:
Where is a person to turn when a State’s Attorney can selectively ignore felony crimes being committed by the top law enforcement person in the county, the Sheriff?
All we have ever asked is that our laws be followed and enforced accordingly. When we were contacted regarding the recent assessment problems, John Kraft filed a FOIA for key assessment related records and the County refused to provide the records. That was the first red flag. After Kraft filed suit against the county for not providing the records, the county finally provided some of the records and I understand that Kraft is awaiting a response from the State's Attorney on that matter.
We encourage you to read each of these three articles in sequence, here, here, and here, as to better understand the big picture in Coles County. At is evident in the responses to problems exposed in the County, they are able to correct them and in some cases did so quickly. We appreciate that, which is how it's supposed to work. When you identify you're not following the law, take corrective action and follow the law moving forward.
What does that have to do with this series on the assessment problems? What if we told you the assessments were never done? What if we told you there was never a legal contract to have the assessments done? Does it matter the contract entered was breached? What if we told you the pickle they are in on this assessment mess can, in fact, be fixed? We will lay out the answers to each of those questions and then the County Board can determine if they are going to correct the wrongs and follow the law or ignore it. If they choose to ignore it, well more on that later.
What if we told you the assessments were never done?
As we laid out in this article, assessments are to be done by certain public officials, or contractors hired by the Township in which the assessments are taking place. That was not done in the case of Coles County as it relates to commercial assessments. The County is under the belief they hired a contractor to do those assessments.
What does it take to enter into a legal contract at the county level? First, it takes statutory authority for the contract in question. As we outlined in previous articles, the County has yet to provide any statutory authority to contract out duties of the Supervisor of Assessments. All that aside, action to approve a contract must appear on an agenda with sufficient information to inform the public as to what "actions" the board intends to take during a meeting. Let's follow their own paper trail and expose violations of law.
The Coles County Officers Rules Committee agenda for April 6th, 2015, lists under Old Business, "A. Commercial appraisal proposal". One might, with a stretch, interpret that item to be possible action item although it does not specifically say any action is going to be taken.
The minutes from that meeting reflect action was taken. In fact, the action taken was quite telling. "After much discussion, Mr. Weber moved to table this proposal until the next meeting, seconded by Mr. Metzger. MOTION CARRIED: A YES: Unanimous (6) NAYES: None (0)"
So it is clear, matters pertaining to the appraisal proposal was tabled until the next meeting, which would be the next meeting of this committee. What ended up happening appears to be troubling as a pattern is beginning to be identified.
The next county board meeting, May 12th, 2015, agenda reflects no action item of any kind related to the commercial appraisal proposal. In fact, the reference of "Proposal re: Commercial Appraisals", is found on the agenda under the heading of Committee Reports. That tells the public those items under that heading deal with reports. Reports are not action items and action taken under such a heading may constitute an Open Meetings Act violation. The average citizen who may have an interest in attending a meeting where action on a contract would take place would look at this agenda and see that no action is being taken outside of approving minutes and appointing members to a Fire District.
So the question becomes, how does a tabled committee item, tabled until their next meeting, end up on the full County Board agenda in the first place. Looking at the minutes from that meeting, the picture becomes even clearer.
The County board not only took action on a Commercial Appraisal item listed under reports, but they took action on every item listed under Reports.
Now is the time for the State's Attorney to do his job and represent the people.
The people's right to be informed on actions their officials are taking has been violated and there is plenty of case law on this type of matter to support such a position.
We are asking the State's Attorney to nullify the action taken at this meeting, declare it null and void, as in void ab-initio, and place such action items properly on a new meeting agenda so that the public is properly informed on what actions are being taken by their public officials, provided such action is supported by law.
In the event the State's Attorney is unwilling to take that appropriate action and fix the clear violation internally, we will file a formal complaint under the Open Meetings Act asking him to prosecute the case in accordance with the provisions in the law, which states;
(5 ILCS 120/3) (from Ch. 102, par. 43)
Sec. 3. (a) Where the provisions of this Act are not complied with, or where there is probable cause to believe that the provisions of this Act will not be complied with, any person, including the State's Attorney of the county in which such noncompliance may occur, may bring a civil action in the circuit court for the judicial circuit in which the alleged noncompliance has occurred or is about to occur, or in which the affected public body has its principal office, prior to or within 60 days of the meeting alleged to be in violation of this Act or, if facts concerning the meeting are not discovered within the 60-day period, within 60 days of the discovery of a violation by the State's Attorney or, if the person timely files a request for review under Section 3.5, within 60 days of the decision by the Attorney General to resolve a request for review by a means other than the issuance of a binding opinion under subsection (e) of Section 3.5.
If the State's Attorney is truly focused on doing the right thing and following the law, as we want to believe, we should expect nothing less than him taking action to rectify this problem. Taking the appropriate action, declaring the contract void ab-initio, means from day one it did not exist, thus the assessments in question were never done, or at a minimum, done without any legal authority. If you're going to raise people's taxes you had best ensure the person doing the assessments was authorized to do those assessments, both by statutory authority and legal action under the Open Meetings Act.
In addition, any future agendas for this public body needs to inform the public with sufficient information when action is going to be taken on an item. This has not been happening for some time in Coles County.
We look forward to a response from the county officials on this matter.