Effingham Co. (ECWd) -
We alleged that the Effingham County Board, under the direction of Chairman Niemann, violated the Open Meetings Act multiple times by holding emergency meetings, which were not emergencies, discussed matters in closed session that were not qualified for closed session discussions, and failed to post a meeting on their website.
According to the Open Meetings Act, "Any person violating any of the provisions of this act, except subsection (b), (c), (d), (e), or (f), of section 1.05, shall be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor".
Considering none of the exemptions from the criminal classification apply in this particular case, it is safe to say they are guilty of a Class C Misdemeanor for violating the Open Meetings Act.
The Attorney General Public Access Counselor (AGPAC), issued their opinion today and although they confused which meeting was the actual emergency meeting in the complaint and improperly ruled on that meeting, they did confirm that improper discussions took place in two separate closed sessions as it relates to the Ambulance contract with Abbott Ambulance service. Also, they confirmed they failed to post one of the special meetings to their website properly. We attended that particular meeting and even though both attorney's present disagreed with our legal analysis, they adjourned the meeting. Reading the opinion from the AG, they agreed with our position and ruled that the County Violated OMA, thus the paid attorneys for the county got it wrong.
Many in Effingham County will recall the contentious back and forth during the Ambulance contract matter. We may soon have some more information to share as the PAC has requested the applicable portions of the closed session recordings to be released as they had no right to discuss the Abbott contract in closed session.
"this office requests that the Board publicly release the portions of the verbatim recordings and minutes of the closed sessions determined to have exceeeded the scope of section 2( c )(11) of OMA."
I would urge new leadership in Effingham County as it is clear the current leadership is less than honest and transparent with the public, and this opinion confirms our findings.