Effingham Co. (ECWd) –
We are taking the position that the Effingham County Board usurped their authority when they entered into a 5-year contract with Abbott Ambulance and that this contract is void ab-initio. We take this position based on lengthy research which included key Illinois case law, to include the same legal arguments used by the College of Dupage which are outlined below.
I shared key case law on this matter with Chris Koester, the attorney representing the county in the Ambulance contract matter, and to date, he has not responded to my question regarding the legality of this contract in light of case law presented.
Effingham County is subject to common-law principle that public boards cannot tie successor boards’ hands by entering into agreements with high-level employees extending beyond the board’s tenure. (Millikin v. Edgar Cty., 142 Ill. 528, 533 (1892), Cannizzo v. Berwyn Twp., 318 Ill. App. 3d 478, 482-83 (1st Dist. 2000), and Grassini v. DuPage Twp., 279 Ill. App. 3d 614, 620 (3d Dist. 1996)).
The 1970 Illinois Constitution limits boards’ powers to those prescribed by statute. Effingham County does not have Home-Rule Powers and, under Dillon’s Rule, cannot exercise powers inconsistent with those granted by statute.
The substance of Dillon’s Rule “is that such entities have no inherent powers, but only those powers either expressly granted by the legislature or necessarily incident thereto.” (Buffalo, Dawson, Mechanicsburg Sewer Comm’n v. Boggs, 128 Ill. App. 3d 688, 690 (4th Dist. 1984) (citing Chi. Real Estate Bd. v. City of Chicago, 36 Ill. 2d 530, 537 (1967)). Under Dillon’s Rule, any reasonable doubt about local governments’ powers is resolved against the governmental unit. LaSalle Nat’l Bank v. Village of Brookfield, 95 Ill. App. 3d 765, 769 (1st Dist. 1981).
“Units of local government are creatures of the legislature,” and since their authority “is dependent upon the legislature,” they cannot act “without a legislative grant of power.” Village of Woodridge v. Bd of Ed. of Cmty. High Sch. Dist. 99, 403 Ill. App. 3d 559, 572 (2d Dist. 2010).
Under the Illinois Constitution, a home-rule unit of government may “exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs.” But only qualifying counties and municipalities (cities, villages, and incorporated towns) are granted these broad home-rule powers and Effingham County is not one of those counties. All other units of local government “exercise limited governmental powers or power in respect to limited governmental subjects and shall have only powers granted by law.” Article VII of the Illinois Constitution “preserves the concept of Dillon’s Rule” for all non-home-rule units. (Metro. Sanitary Dist. of Greater Chi. v. On-Cor Frozen Foods, Inc., 36 Ill. App. 3d 239, 243 (1st Dist. 1976), citing Constitutional Commentary, Smith-Hurd Annot. Const. Art. VII, § 8, at 85 (West 1971)). Article VII of the 1970 Illinois Constitution negated Dillon’s Rule for home-rule units, but “all other units of local government are still bound by Dillon’s Rule.”
So the question Effingham County must answer is simple:
Where in the statute does it permit County Government to enter into multi-year contracts for Ambulance Service?
Illinois case law limits a boards’ powers to those conferred by statute. Since the County Code does not authorize multiyear contracts for ambulance service, the Effingham County Board exceeded their statutory powers in approving and executing a 5-year Ambulance contract, which binds the hands of future boards and makes the agreement void ab initio according to well-established case law.
The concept of not allowing a board to tie the hands of future boards is pretty simple to understand and the concept lies with the fact voters have a right to vote elected officials out of office, which allows the voter’s voice to control their government. Allowing a board to enter into agreements that extend beyond their term of office takes control away from the voters.
So what does all this mean?
Effingham County does not possess the legislative authority to enter into contracts that bind the hands of future elected officials. Without legislative authority, any such contract entered into is void ab initio (from the begining), according to well established case law.
Considering the attorney has not responded to our inquiry on this matter, we can only assume they hope we just drop the matter and go on to another project. We will move on to other Effingham County problems but rest assured this particluar matter is not going to go away, nor is our reporting on it.
We ask that Effingham County follow the rule of law and declare the Ambulance contract void and take appropriate steps to enter into a valid contract that does not bind the hands of future boards.
We suspect, if another Ambulance service were to operate in Effingham County, they would have a valid legal argument to do so, but what do we know, we are not attorneys…LOL.
Will Effingham County Board do the right thing and fix this mess?