Effingham Co. (ECWd) -
We were informed last week that an Effingham County Insurance meeting was going to be held on August 4th, 2017, at 9 am. The first problem, the notice did not come from the County who is supposed to let us know when meetings are scheduled. That was the first red flag.
I confirmed no meeting was posted either on their web site, at the location of the meeting, or at the location of the public body late Wednesday afternoon, which was within the 48 hr mandatory posting outlined in the law.
I and two other members of the public showed up for the meeting and there was nothing posted at that time either. Not outside for the public to see, nor in the entry way, bulletin boards, nor on the County Board office, a location where such meeting notice and agenda are required.
One of the members saw all three of us in the County Board meeting room, where meetings are normally held, and shut the door to a back room that is normally for closed session portions of meetings. The sign on that door says “PRIVATE”. The person that shut the door is insurance committee member Jeff Simpson.
At 9 am, the claimed start of the meeting, the room lights were still off and no one came in to start the meeting or tell us there was not going to be a meeting.
John Kraft went up to the door marked Private at approximately 9:00 and knocked on the door, as it was locked. Mr. Simpson opened the door but was on the phone. The Chairman of the insurance committee, Karen Luchtefeld was also behind the closed door, which means two of the three board members were present, which would consitutute a public meeting if public business was being discussed, which the video proves it was in our opinion.
I could not hear what she was saying to John Kraft, the person who knocked on the door, so I went over and asked when the meeting was going to start. She was sitting at a table with numerous documents spread out in front of her and the other member. She stated that they just came in to do some work and it was not a real meeting.
I advised that two members of a three member board is a quorum and doing county business would constitute a meeting. She said she can't do anything since they don’t have the paperwork anyway. I find that reasoning misleading, considering she had papers all over the table in front of them and appeared to have started their private meeting behind closed doors to "do some work", as she put it. Her response implied that they intended on doing county work and the fact of the matter, they were doing some kind of county work with all those papers in front of them behind locked doors.
I called the State's Attorney to inform him of what was going on and he said he would be right over. During that conversation the Chairman of the insurance committee got up with her cup of coffee and purse, while on the phone and walked into the adjoining main office. I advised the State's Attorney it appeared she was leaving. The door marked Private was shut by the other committee member, which we all found odd.
She got on the phone to call someone so I sat back down in the board room and waited to see what they were going to do.
We waited several minutes then went out in the hall and discovered the main office was now locked and lights were off, which is the only other access to the Private room. The committee members appeared to have simply slipped out the back way without providing the members of the public any information or telling us that they were canceling the meeting that they began behind closed doors.
The State's Attorney did not show up during the 10 minutes we waited, although that may have been because I told him it appeared the Chairman was leaving.
I have requested the Attorney General Public Access Office to review this matter for violations of the Open Meetings Act, which are Class C Misdameaners if confirmed. I am alleging that they violated OMA for the following reasons:
- A majority of a Quorum met and discussed public business and was doing so behind closed and locked doors.
- A majority of a Quorum met and did not post notice of the meeting.
- A majority of a quorum met and did not post an agenda.
- The insurance committee failed to provide public notice 48 hrs in advance of their meeting.
Below is the video of the events and you will hear proof that they were in fact doing public business begining at the 2:07-3:05 mark of the video when they were asked if there was going to be an insurance committee meeting.
"We are reviewing the companies...list, it's a working... were working" "We are up here talking,"
Only after being caught holding a secret meeting did they decide to slip out the back and discontinue the illegal meeting.