Local

County Board pursues Open Meetings Act training

Several McHenry County Board members last week expressed displeasure that they were not told about or invited to a private meeting to tweak a proposed redistricting map.

To board member Donna Kurtz, such concern misses the point – the meeting, under investigation for possibly violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act, should never have taken place.

Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, is spearheading an effort to set up training on the act for all 24 members of the board, not just the five who attended the private gathering that she said at least violated the act’s intent of open government.

“If we’re going to be a governing body, we have to go by the laws that govern us,” Kurtz said.

Kurtz, a member of the Management Services Committee that oversees county government, will make a case for the training at the committee’s meeting today. She first suggested the training Tuesday evening, when the County Board rejected an alternate map that came out of the private meeting.

Five board members met privately an hour before the May 26 meeting of the Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee to air concerns about a redistricting map the committee developed over several open meetings and a public hearing. The County Board must adjust its district boundaries after every U.S. Census to ensure that they contain an equal number of people.

Attendees were board Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake; Vice Chairman John Jung, R-Woodstock; fellow board members Marc Munaretto, R-Algonquin; Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry; and Tina Hill, R-Woodstock; and Algonquin Township Republican precinct committeeman Robert Miller.

Three of them – Munaretto, Jung and Provenzano – are members of the legislative committee, which under the law is enough members to require the meeting be open to the public with at least 48 hours’ advance notice. However, the decision was made for Jung and Provenzano to rotate in and out so that there never was a majority of a quorum of the committee in the room at any given time.

Kurtz’s request for training will have a sympathetic ear in management services Chairwoman Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, a critic of the private meeting.

“It was a deliberate attempt to affect election outcomes in the future when they chose to try to change our districts without giving all of us an opportunity to discuss what they were proposing,” Schuster said.

The alternative map was thoroughly discussed by the legislative committee, but was not put to a vote. Board members from Districts 4 and 6, which are more rural and were unaltered in the “official” map, were not invited to the private meeting.

The Northwest Herald filed a request for review June 9 with the Attorney General Public Access Counselor, whom state law empowers with investigating possible violations of the Open Meetings and Freedom of Information acts. The counselor’s office last week ordered Koehler to submit copies of meeting agendas, minutes and related information.

Assistant State’s Attorney Jamie Rein had told the newspaper that she had not been advised of the meeting. She said that while rotating members out to avoid a quorum is not forbidden in the law, she would have advised against it as contrary to the law’s spirit.

The Attorney General is empowered to issue binding opinions to clarify gray areas in the law. The newspaper’s complaint alleges that the Open Meetings Act is “ ... a meaningless law if public bodies can meet without notice and without recording minutes simply by swapping out one or more members.”

A bill awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature, House Bill 1670, would require most state elected officials to take the Attorney General’s online Open Meetings Act training program.

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“No More Excuses” is an ongoing Northwest Herald investigation regarding the public’s right to know in Illinois.

On the Net

Visit foia.ilattorneygeneral.net to learn more about the Illinois Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act.

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