Effingham Co. (ECWd) -
Effingham County has been going through legal turmoil as it relates to the ambulance operations within the county for the last several yeas. As the legal posturing appears to be nearing a resolution, our tip line has been burning up with allegations of secret meetings and back door deals.
We chose to attend yesterday's Special Meeting of the County Board because we confirmed certain posting requirements were not complied with. We already addressed a similar violation a few months ago and were assured it was just an oversite. Now we wonder if it is a pattern.
The County Board held an emergency meeting several months ago and failed to comply with the County Code pertaining to special meetings by failing to have the meeting notice published in the local paper. After raising the question, I received this response from the County Chairman, Jim Niemann:
I am familiar with the County Code and have been through numerous open meetings act training sessions provided by the Attorney General’s office. We also have a reference guide compiled by the United Council of Counties of Illinois that we refer to. None of these trainings mention the requirements you listed, however after researching the issue, I find that you are referencing 55 ILSC 5/2-1002, put into effect January 1, 1990. I see this as being a potential conflict with the open meetings act which I believe was ratified in ’96. I believe more recent laws taking priority in cases of conflict over the earlier one. All that being said, I will have the issue addressed by our attorney’s for clarification.
I responded with the following language from the Open Meetings Act which takes the position that the OMA did not take a priority over requirements in the County Code.
(5 ILCS 120/2.04) (from Ch. 102, par. 42.04)
Sec. 2.04. The notice requirements of this Act are in addition to, and not in substitution of, any other notice required by law. (Source: Laws 1967, p. 1960.)
I was told, as seen above, that he would have the issue addressed by their attorney for clarification, which would be the State's Attorney.
Fast forward to yesterday's meeting where I asked a simple question.
Considering this meeting was not published in the paper as required by the county code and no Public Notice on the website, is this a legal meeting? You can see the question and the several minutes of confusion the question created starting at the 5:25 mark of the video either at this link or viewed below.
I raised the question because they were planning on taking action on a contract that could possibly be ruled invalid if such action was taken during an illegal meeting.
The response is very interesting. For starters, two attorneys had to leave the room for close to 10 minutes to review the Open Meetings Act, to then return and make a point of saying although they disagree with my interpretation of the law, they recommended the meeting be rescheduled.
A review of the video reflects I made no interpretation. I simply asked the question: Is this a legal meeting? The question was based on the facts presented below.
You be the judge!
Does holding a meeting where they failed to publish the notice of a special meeting in the local paper, as required by the County Code, constitute an illegal meeting?
(55 ILCS 5/2-1002) (from Ch. 34, par. 2-1002)
Sec. 2-1002. Special meetings. Special meetings of the board shall be held only when requested by at least one-third of the members of the board, or when requested by the chairman of the board in counties where such chairman is elected by the voters of the county, which request shall be in writing, addressed to the clerk of the board, and specifying the time and place of such meeting, upon reception of which the clerk shall immediately transmit notice, in writing, of such meeting, to each of the members of the board. The clerk shall also cause notice of such meeting to be published in some newspaper printed in the county, if any there be. In case a vacancy arises in the office of clerk, because of death or other reason, then the request shall be addressed to the circuit clerk who shall perform the duties of the clerk pursuant to this Section.
(Source: P.A. 86-962.)
Does holding a meeting where they failed to publish the public notice on their website, as required by the Open Meetings Act, constitute an illegal meeting?
5 ILCS 120/2.02(b) Public notice shall be given by posting a copy of the notice at the principal office of the body holding the meeting or, if no such office exists, at the building in which the meeting is to be held. In addition, a public body that has a website that the full-time staff of the public body maintains shall post notice on its website of all meetings of the governing body of the public body.
Although the attorneys took the position they disagreed with our interpretation, even though we never gave one, they suggested rescheduling the meeting. They claimed to have erred on the side of caution by rescheduling the meeting, however, my confusion lies with the claim by the State's Attorney that the county has done it's best to get notice out, when in fact they once again ignored the mandatory newspaper publication requirement found in the Counties Code. If their best is to not be able to provide the newspaper with a purchase order to publish the notice as required, then their best is clearly not good enough.
They have rescheduled this meeting for June 2, 2017, at 10:00 am.