Champaign Co. (ECWd) –
The Sangamon Valley Public Water District issued a press release dated June 13, 2022, that by all indications, appears to constitute both electioneering with public resources and in violation of the state ethics act.
The citizen of the district organized and circulated petitions to have the board members of the district elected rather than appointed by the Champaign County Board.
As covered by WCIA Channel 3, “The board chairman, Meghan Hennesey, sat on the petition for more than a month.” “A couple hours before having to appear in court Hennesy officially filed the petition, avoiding any continued court appearances.”
Now that the question for electing trustees is on the ballot, a Vote Yes flyer hit the mailboxes within the past week and this is where the story gets interesting.
According to the SVPWD press release, “SVPWD strongly believes that APPOINTING board members is in the best interest of the District.” (Link updated to the actual document since the SVPWD changed their press release after our publication)
Public bodies are not allowed to use public resources in support of or in opposition to a referendum on the ballot. In fact, the law outlines that doing so is a Class B Misdemeanor for the first violation, which means the legislature felt this was serious enough to find such actions, criminal.
“(c) The first time any person violates any provision of this Section, that person shall be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor. Upon the second or any subsequent violation of any provision of this Section, the person violating any provision of this Section shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.”
Considering there is no meeting notice published on their website since the flyer was circulated and the date of their press release, we must ask, who is responsible for the drafting and publishing of this so-called SVPWD belief?
Anyone reading the press release can clearly see it was created as a campaign counterpoint to the flyer in question and by all indications from an attorney we have spoken with, it violates our state election laws regarding electioneering. We would urge citizens of the district to file a formal complaint to the State Board of Elections on the matter.
In reviewing the state ethics act, it appears the SVPWD has also violated portions of the ethics act as well.
The definitions of Prohibited political activity appear to have at least one and possibly two that would apply to this press release.
Prohibited political activity” means:
- (5) Surveying or gathering information from potential or actual voters in an election to determine probable vote outcome in connection with a campaign for elective office or on behalf of a political organization for political purposes or for or against any referendum question.
- (11) Distributing, preparing for distribution, or mailing campaign literature, campaign signs, or other campaign material on behalf of any candidate for elective office or for or against any referendum question.
The ethics act does permit the use of public funds for dissemination of factual information relative to any proposition appearing on an election ballot, however, the press release is not presenting factual information but rather their opinion.
We urge the citizens in the district to file an ethics complaint with the Champaign County Ethics Commission. Under current law, it is the County that must hear ethics complaints relating to public bodies which have their members appointed by the county. If the SVPWD board members were elected, as citizens are trying to make it, the ethics complaint would be heard by an Ethics Commission created by the SVPWD.
We have submitted numerous Freedom of Information Act requests to the SVPWD and will update as this investigation moves forward as we have already found a laundry list of problems that need to be exposed.