Coles Co. (ECWd)
During last months meeting, the County Board recessed their meeting instead of adjourning because of Budget approval matters. That being the case, I spoke with State's Attorney Brian Bower and raised the concern regarding the public's ability to speak at the next County Board meeting, which by their description was going to be a re-convened meeting, which in this case, already had public comment.
SA Bower assured me that the next regular meeting would take place immediately after the re-convened meeting and there would be a separate agenda and the public would be allowed to speak at that regular meeting.
Even though we discussed this matter in September, the County Board "did not" post an agenda for their regular scheduled meeting as we had been assured would happen. The only agenda was this one, listed as a re-convened meeting. The problem comes with the fact the re-convened meeting must have the same agenda from the meeting that was recessed. The re-convened meeting agenda listed three items for action that were not contained in the previous agenda, thus a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
5 ILCS 120/2.02 (a) -The requirement of public notice of reconvened meetings does not apply to any case where the meeting was open to the public and (1) it is to be reconvened within 24 hours, or (2) an announcement of the time and place of the reconvened meeting was made at the original meeting and there is no change in the agenda.
So the first Open Meetings Act violation is changing the agenda for a re-convened public meeting.
What would have been the second Open Meetings Act violation was the holding of a regular meeting that had no agenda posted. When I addressed this matter with the State's Attorney, an attempt was made to imply the re-convened meeting agenda was somehow OK to use for that meeting. He asked me if I agreed that had the word "re-convened" not been on that agenda it would be a sufficient agenda for the regular meeting. I agreed, and asked him if their intent was to hold the regular meeting using the re-convened agenda, because if so, I considered that a violation of the Open Meetings Act, as there was no agenda for the regular meeting, only a re-convened meeting agenda.
All indications initially pointed to them going ahead with the regular meeting that had no agenda, which would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act. I had already notified the Sheriff Deputy in advance of my intent to hold them accountable and have them arrested if they commited the crime of violating the Open Meetings Act.
Right before the meeting started, Mr. Bower informed me that they agreed the regular meeting did not have a properly noticed agenda and they would not be conducting their regular meeting as scheduled because of that. They also chose not to act on the modified agenda for the re-convened meeting and only act on the Budget matter that was on the original agenda.
We appreciate them taking steps to correct the mistakes, however, why is it that these "mistakes" happened in the first place? It was discussed at the previous meeting for the sole purpose of ensuring this would not happen, yet it did.
The Open Meetings Act is not hard to comprehend, nor follow. It would appear, whoever is in charge of posting agendas for meetings is unfamiliar with the Open Meetings Act and/or were never advised by the States Attorney on how to deal with a re-convened meeting as we discussed and were assured would be taken care of.
Had we not been present, we supsect they would have gone ahead with the meeting and ignored the fact they would have violated the law. That is the rub with us.
For those County Board Members present, know that violations of the Open Meetings Act are a Class C Misdemeanor crime.
Who is supposed to prosecute crimes in the County? The State's Attorney!
That being the case, how on earth are the citizen's rights protected when the very person responsible for prosecuting such a crime is actually a party to the cause of the violation by either not advising or giving bad legal advice?
We truly want better government and understand mistakes happen, however, in this case, every possible step was taken to steer them away from a potential violation of our laws, yet they still were unable to properly follow them.