Logan County, Ill. (ECWd) –
We surveyed the various counties purporting to lease county-owned farm ground, which were named in a newspaper article written about the Shelby County Farm. Each county listed in that article received a Freedom of Information Act request from us asking for information on their county-owned farm ground and the leasing of the ground.
As with any public body where you start looking into any given matter, there is always a rabbit hole turning up more problems.
Read the Logan County FOIA response (here).
Logan County has six separate farmland parcels according to the contract however the last parcel number is nowhere to be found on the county GIS system. Four of the remaining 5 parcels are airport farmland. County Airports are authorized to lease their farm ground as that is required ground around the airport mandated by FAA rules. Even though a private farmer is leasing that ground and profits from it, the primary use of the land, which is the public purpose test, is a safety buffer for aviation operations. The parcel from their former “poor farm” are being leased on a cash-rent basis for $395 per acre with a 2% increase each year. There are two more years left on this lease.
Even though years ago the Illinois Attorney General issued an opinion to Logan County stating they could not lease their farm ground to a private farmer for a private purpose, all indications are they chose to ignore the AG and the law rather than follow the AG’s opinion and the law as Shelby County did. Why anyone would point to a county that clearly is not following the law or guidance of the AG as justification to do the same thing is beyond our comprehension.
The Rabbit Hole
As if ignoring the AG and the law is not bad enough, the county also is leasing out a building and grain bins, which are property of the county and clearly being used for private purposes.
“17. To pay rent on machine shed of $1,000.00 and rent on grain bins of $1,000.00, to be paid annually on November 15th.”
The leasing of buildings and grain bins for a private purpose is violative of the Constitution.
The Logan County opinion was more focused on whether or not the State’s Attorney could force the county board to sell the farmland, which the AG indicated the State’s Attorney did not have the powers to demand the county board sell the farm.
“There is no statutory authority that authorizes Logan County to lease its property for private purposes. In addition, the leasing of property by Logan County for private purposes violates section 1(a) of Article VIII of the Illinois Constitution.”(emphasis added)
“The letter requesting the opinion noted that, notwithstanding the issuance of opinion No. NP-843 and other Attorney General opinions, “the Logan County Board, and I am sure other county boards throughout the State of Illinois, continue to hold farming lands and operate farms in violation of statute. ” 1975 lll. Att’y Gen. Op. at 298.” (emphasis added)
Some say the Logan County letter is invalid since it is dated in the mid-1970s, however, the Attorney General’s June 3, 2021, letter to the former Shelby County State’s Attorney Nichole Kroncke cited to that Logan County opinion and many others, when the AG again indicated that counties did not possess the power to lease county farmland for the private farmer’s financial gain.
Some also say the Yackley v Johnson case law from 1938 is way too old to be valid, but yet again, the Attorney General cited that case in his letter to SA Kroncke dated June 3, 2021. Most interesting in that case is the following quote: “The powers of counties are public and they are not authorized to go into private business.”
Good case law is good case law, no matter how old it is.
Virtually nothing has changed related to the leasing of county farmland to a private farmer for his own financial profit and section 1(a) of Article VIII of the Illinois Constitution, even after the enactment of Public Act 103-0415.
Leasing county-owned property to a public or private entity has always been permitted. However, just as outlined in numerous AG opinions, case law, and the constitution, there is no authorization to lease that property for a private purpose. It would help if people learned that just because a law indicates a private entity can be a lease holder it does not mean they can do so for a private purpose. There are over 2 dozen AG opinions issued over the years on this topic and they all indicate the same thing on this point.