The new state’s attorney for the county is “reviewing” the following incident:

Election of the chairman was listed on the County Board’s public agenda.

Members, wanting to discuss the contentious subject of who should chair the board after a prearranged agreement fell apart during public discussion at the meeting, first suggested going into recess and heading to separate meeting rooms[...]

Schmack advised the board such a move would be in violation of the Open Meetings Act. Then, County Board members suggested standing at ease to allow an ad-hoc committee to meet, which Schmack also advised against. During the roughly 15-minute ordeal in the public portion of the meeting, board members Paul Stoddard, D-DeKalb, and Charles Foster, R-Shabbona, were in off-microphone discussions with each other.

The board eventually voted to stand at ease and divided into two groups to talk about who they wanted to elect.

The Illinois Senate goes “at ease” sometimes. Here’s an example (PDF p. 29).

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate, the hour of 9:20 standard Senate time having arrived, the Committee on Assignments will meet immediately in the President’s Anteroom. Will all the members of the Committee on Assignments please report to the President’s Anteroom immediately? The Senate stands at ease. (at ease)

Here’s another example (see 11:48 update). Clearly, members who are “at ease” are waiting around for the official meeting to reconvene. They are not conducting the people’s business.

Keep in mind as well: not all provisions of the Open Meetings Act apply to the bodies of the General Assembly as they do to local units of Illinois government.

I believe a violation of the OMA probably did occur.

Furthermore, the thrashing about for a loophole when their partisan machinations fell apart does not speak well for either party.

Council will be discussing more specific rules for public participation (PDF pp. 31-33) than what’s on the books now.

It includes prohibitions whenever the chair of the meeting feels like it.

3. Public Comment Not Permitted: The City reserves the right to conduct public meetings at which public comment is not received, when the chair of the meeting determines that it is necessary to do so in order to provide for orderly and efficient governance. Notwithstanding the foregoing, unless the City is responding to an actual emergency or is otherwise permitted by law to act in such a fashion, as determined by the chair, the City shall not take final action on any item of public business when the sole discussion of such item has been at a meeting where public comment was not permitted.

Regular readers already know that a common interpretation of the new Open Meetings Act provision taking effect in January is this: if it’s a public meeting, the public gets to speak, period; and that a unit of local government may set rules for how public comment is conducted, but not whether it is.

Has the city attorney checked with the Attorney General about this? It doesn’t say in the memo.

I also wonder why the city is suddenly concerned with orderly and efficient meetings.

Ironically, the participation rules are described as promoting the goal to “ensure vigorous public involvement in the City’s legislative process” yet will be discussed Monday in the Committee of the Whole meeting, during which public comment has always been prohibited.

Changes such as the addition of the right to speak during government meetings will take effect in 2013.

(g) Any person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.

Looks like we’ll be allowed our three minutes apiece at all public meetings beginning next January — well, most of us will, at least.

See Boone County Watchdog for more information about the changes to OMA.

***Update 1:30 p.m.: Their lips say no, but the timing feels like there’s some piling on.***

**Update 9:45 a.m.: Here’s the latest put up by RRStar. I do NOT agree that WCFPD has a credibility problem (stated at the end of the article). Instead, I’d argue that any credibility problem is Randy Olson’s alone at this point and that WCFPD made all the right moves to set right a trust-busting situation that Olson created.**

To summarize: Former Winnebago Forest Preserve District president Randy Olson created and staffed a new public safety job even though the majority of the commission disapproved of his decisions.

Here is what the other commissioners did about it:

It took some time — and for Olson to actually make the hire — for the board to pick up the additional vote it needed to demote him. The fifth commissioner professed herself a good friend of his but busted him anyway. (Olson still serves, just not as president. It will be interesting to see what the voters say if he runs again.)

Well done, #wcfpd!

*Update 10:45 p.m.: Olson is out as district president! The story is here. But that’s not all! Find bonus Chuck Sweeney here with free shipping!*

The Rockford Register Star used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain e-mails to and from Winnebago Forest Preserve district president Randy Olson that trace the process of creating a job for a person he evidently likes very much.

Randy Olson plotted for months to give Roscoe cop Theresa Rawaillot a well-paid forest preserve police job, a trail of emails shows.

And when his plans hit roadblocks along the way, he ultimately decided to change the way forest preserves are policed.

The job creation efforts involved bulldozing the district’s executive director as well as ignoring the majority of its board of commissioners.

It may even have violated the Open Meetings Act, and thanks to a complaint made by an concerned citizen, the Attorney General is planning to investigate the allegation.

President Olson remains unrepentant.

Olson has said that commissioners have focused too much on the process to bring Rawaillot on board, which distracts from the goal: to save the district money and improve police presence in the preserves.

At least four of the commissioners do not agree that the ends justify the means, and I’ll bet they hate getting stuck with a police officer who thinks this is OK, too.

In a continuation of this story, Winnebago Forest Preserve District president Randy Olson has created and staffed a public safety job without the approval — and indeed in defiance of — a majority of the board.

And, it appears the move might even be legal:

Olson’s authorization of the hire is a rare move in the forest preserve district, but the Downstate Forest Preserve District Act appears to give him the power to do so: “The president of (the forest preserve board) shall have power to appoint such employees as may be necessary.”

That appears to conflict with the Winnebago County Forest Preserve’s bylaws, which says the president can make appointments “subject to confirmation by the board.” The board’s attorney has advised commissioners that state statutes trump local rules, Kalousek said.

Olson’s plan is an alternative to contracting with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s police for protection in the preserves. The problems, according to a memo written by four members of the board, are that Olson failed to make a case for his actions to the rest of the board, and that he improperly used a closed session meeting to try to get other board members to go along them.

The board could remove Olson as president, but would need to pick up a fifth vote to do so.

Back in February I alerted you to the resignation of the mayor of Alorton, because it seemed the investigation and scandal had something to do with Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

Turns out it had little if anything to do with TIF and a lot to do with shakedowns at traffic stops.

Now Alorton is back in the news due to the actions of its new mayor, whom the St. Clair County state’s attorney has been trying to remove from office. Read the rest of this entry

Four Winnebago Forest Preserve Board commissioners — a majority — are accusing the board president of misusing a closed session meeting in an attempt to create a new position. Chuck Sweeney examines the letter the commissioners sent to board president Randy Olson:

First, it says, “We believe the Board was placed in jeopardy by using ‘closed session’ to discuss the public safety coordinator; a matter other than that for which the meeting was closed. State law is very well defined on this; and if it were shared with staff and public it would most certainly be viewed as an abuse of closed session. It is in the best interest of the Board, as well as the public, to follow state law regarding closed sessions.”

See? Some boards do understand the Open Meetings Act and are willing to fight for it. Read the rest of this entry

[Update 1 added 2/23/2012 after the jump.]
[Update 2 added 2/24/2010]

Click on either image to access larger versions.

I’ll note additions to this post, if any, at the City Barbs Blog Facebook page as well.

Read the rest of this entry

In “Sparland Officials Resign Amid Investigations, Controversy” we learned that most of the officials of the Village of Sparland resigned in December and that it had to do with investigations into possible Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act violations.

But we were missing something.

[Resident Margaret] Murry asked for records that included meeting minutes, copies of some ordinances and amendments, certain financial records and the oaths of office taken by elected officials.

State law requires a response to FOIA requests within five working days. Murry asked the AG’s Office to review the matter after two weeks had passed.

“The public body has failed to respond to my request,” she wrote.

The investigation comes at a time when the village has no one filling the legally required position of FOIA officer. [Village Clerk Susan] Persinger resigned from that appointed post the day Murry submitted her request, Mayor Linda Medearis said at a Dec. 1 Village Board meeting.

Murry, who has experience in LaSalle County government, has been appointed village clerk.

[HT Boone County Watchdog for pointing me to additional stories.]