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August 10, 2022

Sangamon Valley Public Water District – Selective Legal Action Fails – Did Misinformation Play A Role?

By Kirk Allen & John Kraft

On July 11, 2022

Champaign Co. (ECWd)

The Sangamon Valley Public Water District attorney Ed Flynn filed a writ of mandamus lawsuit against Champaign County Executive Darlene Kloeppel in an attempt to force her to make an appointment to an alleged vacancy on the water district’s board.

There are several notable issues with this filing.

A request for board minutes that reflect the board of trustees approved such legal action to be filed resulted in “no records exist“.  Who authorized the water district to file a court case to attempt to force an appointment to an alleged vacancy?  We find nothing in the Water District Act granting such powers to the general manager and are awaiting a response to a Freedom of Information Act request for powers and duties conferred on the general manager.  If the power to green-light lawsuits was given to the general manager without board approval it would be, in our opinion, a clear indication as to why board members who conferred such power to be replaced.

The courts ruled on their attempt to force an appointment last week.  The court dismissed the case without prejudice and leave to replead was denied.

The taxpayers in the district are on the hook for the legal expenses related to this action that had zero board approval according to the records.

Of additional interest is the email Ed Flynn sent to the County on May 17, 2022, at 11:58, specifically this statement.

“I do not want to file needless litigation but if this simple issue is not clarified today then you are forcing me to file a writ of mandamus.”

Such a statement appears to indicate he is calling the shots because if he was directed to file the suit such a statement would be in contradiction to any direction given on the matter.  More telling is after the County Administrator responded, Flynn chose the path of litigation because he did not like the response provided.

“Your answer is fluff I can’t get a strait commitment from you so I will be filing a Writ of Mandamus.”

We find it troubling that an attorney pushing to replace one board member takes legal action even though his term had not been completed.  He represented to the county that there were only 6 members on the board, yet that was not true.  There were seven and the very member he speaks about not being appointed was not only still on the board during this filing, but Flynn knew his term did not end until May 31, 2022, according to the minutes from the May meeting, the day before he filed the legal action. (click here to review the minutes)

Flynn told the County Administrator the following:

“This is important because Mr. Larson was not approved by the County Board so the SVPWD currently has six board members and this makes it difficult if the SVPWD has a 3-3 vote then the board is stalemated that is why the statute requires seven trustees.” (emphasis added) (Click here for the email communications)

What we find most interesting is how this action was targeted to fill the alleged vacancy of board member Larson but was silent on the fact there was another actual vacancy that Flynn ignored.

According to records we obtained from Champaign County, Water District Board member Michelle Grindley resigned from the board on May 23, 2022, at 1:40 pm.

“On Mon, May 23, 2022, at 1:40 PM Michelle Grindley wrote:
Hi all,
I have enjoyed my time on the SVPWD Board up until the last few months. I have decided to resign from the board effective immediately. Please call me if you would like to discuss.
Sincerely,
Michelle Grindley”

A resignation submitted to the appointing authority that states it is effective immediately means just that, effective immediately.  So why didn’t the attorney’s lawsuit include a push to fill two vacancies?

Grindley’s resignation was effective immediately yet she continues to sit at meetings.

Shortly after her “immediate resignation”, she sends an email stating she has “reconsidered and will withdraw my resignation”.

“From: Michelle Grindley
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2022 2:05 PM
To: Lindsey Stroud <[email protected]>; Kerry Gifford <[email protected]>; Darlene A. Kloeppel <[email protected]>
Cc: Colleen Schultz < Michael Larson <Michael Melton < Monte Cherry ( < RobertBuchanan < Board <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Board Resignation
CAUTION: External email, be careful when opening.
Hi all,
After a few conversations, I have reconsidered and will withdraw my resignation. I would like us to take up Executive Kloeppel on her offer for remediation as a board, and would respectfully ask us all to consider putting our heads down and getting work done together to focus on the tasks at hand.
I will see you shortly.
Michelle” (click here for email resignation communications)

We find nothing in the Water District Act indicating a person can resign their seat and then on their own action get it back. Nor do we find any applicable section of the law indicating they remain until a replacement is appointed, as is the case with some public bodies.
With the recent election results overwhelmingly in favor of making the trustees elected, rather than appointed, we hope those who run for these seats choose to follow the rules rather than do as they please.

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