The city of McHenry has formed an ethics commission in response to a complaint against Mayor Wayne Jett and the city.
McHenry resident Christopher Schurrer filed two complaints in July, one with the city’s ethics commission and another with the Attorney General’s public access counselor.
Schurrer alleges that the city violated Open Meetings Act requirements and that Jett breached ethics ordinances by campaigning for Jim Walsh, who put in an unsuccessful bid for the Ward 2 alderman seat in the April election.
The first complaint also details a campaigning effort in support of the recreation center expansion. The $30 million expansion project was put to voters via referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot and failed.
The city rejected the complaint Thursday because it wasn’t notarized, as called for under municipal code.
Schurrer said that he got the complaint notarized and mailed it back to the city for reconsideration Friday.
Recreation center expansion
Jett posted a message about the referendum on his mayoral Facebook account in October 2018. The post asked followers if they wanted a yard sign in support of the expansion and stated that Jett would deliver the signs if his followers would send him their addresses.
Schurrer alleges the message falls under “prohibited political activities” in McHenry’s municipal code. The code bars officials and city employees from soliciting votes for a referendum question and working on a campaign for a referendum question while the person is “executing his or her duties, regardless of location.”
Jett posted the message on his mayoral account, which means it would fall under that definition, Schurrer said in the complaint.
Ward 2 alderman race
The complaint alleges that Jett took part in similar prohibited political activities by making three Facebook posts on his mayoral account that stated support for Walsh, requested volunteers for campaigns of alderman and alderwoman candidates he supported and offered Walsh campaign yard signs to followers.
The complaint also references the email Jett sent from his city account in February that requested support for Walsh. Jett later apologized for sending the email from that account and said he had done so in error.
“Such frequent occurrences in approximately five months show a pattern of such activity being a conscious effort and should be reviewed accordingly,” Schurrer wrote in the complaint.
Jett also served as chairman during a Dec. 30 electoral board meeting, which had been called to hear Ward 2 Alderman Andy Glab’s objection on Walsh’s petition to run against him for the seat in the election. Jett didn’t recuse himself despite “significant bias,” Schurrer wrote.
Open Meetings Act
Schurrer filed his second complaint with the public access counselor. The complaint alleges city officials improperly went into closed session during that Dec. 30 meeting.
The board went into executive session to deliberate on Glab’s objection and stated the purpose for going into executive session was “pending litigation,” which is allowed under Open Meetings Act law.
The complaint argues that this was a miscategorization and that the act excludes electoral boards considering petition challenges from meeting in closed session.
“Beyond the issue of the meeting going into closed session on its own, actions that stemmed within that closed session also seem to be of concern,” Schurrer wrote in the complaint.
Schurrer submitted a Freedom of Information Act request with McHenry in May, requesting the transcript of the closed session meeting, and was told that no transcript existed and the city didn’t expect to prepare one.
The Open Meetings Act requires all public bodies to keep minutes of meetings and either audio or video recordings of closed session meetings.
Schurrer then requested an audio or video recording of the closed session meeting and his request was denied because a verbatim record hadn’t been prepared. Deputy City Clerk Monte Johnson also wrote that even if it had been prepared, it wouldn’t be available.
Johnson cited the portion of the Open Meetings Act that states unless the public body has decided to make the record public then the recording can remain confidential. Public bodies are required to periodically review minutes of closed session meetings and determine whether the records should remain confidential.
McHenry gave Schurrer the audio recording after speaking with the public access counselor, Schurrer said Friday.
City Council members this month appointed Brandy Quance, a lawyer with city attorney David McArdle’s firm, as its ethics adviser and Michael Roberts, former McHenry High School District 156 superintendent; Richard Huber, chairman of the city’s police commission; and John Jones, former McHenry police chief, as ethics commission members.
The role of the commission is to hear complaints brought against elected officials and determine what penalties – if any – are called for.
Jett said in a statement Friday that he hasn’t read the complaint.
“I am happy for this to go through the new ethics commission, and whatever the outcome is I will deal with it then,” Jett said. “I am honestly busy focusing on positive things happening in our community versus a complaint about an e-blast sent months ago.”