Madison County’s new board will meet again Thursday evening amid concerns affirmed by the Illinois Attorney General that its first meeting on Monday might not have been legal.
The County Board met Monday to swear in its new members elected last month, reorganize with committees and chairmanships, and consider a slate of new department heads proposed by County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler to replace seven people who served under the previous administration.
But at the beginning of the meeting, Prenzler handed the gavel over to former county board member Steve Adler, who had just stepped down after 11 years on the board. Adler had been nominated as one of the new department heads, but was not confirmed and was no longer on the county board.
At the time, Prenzler said he had asked Adler to preside over the meeting because of Adler’s experience in how the procedures should run. Prenzler did not speak publicly for the rest of that meeting.
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Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said he informed Prenzler and Adler before Monday’s meeting that county ordinances specify that only the chairman or the chairman pro tem may preside during a meeting. After Monday’s meeting, Gibbons said he was approached by county board members of both parties asking him to offer a legal opinion on the matter.
Gibbons said he has since consulted with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and researched the statutes, and on Wednesday issued an opinion that the meeting was not legal. Further, he said, that could call into question the legitimacy of the new board members who had been sworn in and of the new county treasurer, Candance Gilstrap. Prenzler had nominated Gilstrap to take his place, and she was approved by the board on Monday and sworn in by County Clerk Debra Ming-Mendoza.
The County Board also opted on Monday to postpone the votes on the new department heads until they could receive full resumes and criminal background checks, when applicable. They voted to postpone consideration of those appointments until the regular county board meeting on Dec. 21.
However, two of the new appointments have reappeared on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting: appointing Douglas Hulme to replace Joseph Parente as county administrator and Rob Dorman to replace Timothy Renick as information technology director.
But there is also a question whether those appointments can take place either. The positions are still technically occupied by the previous employees, who are entitled to notice and severance pay when being dismissed under county ordinances. Gibbons said he advised Prenzler on Monday afternoon prior to the meeting that the positions were not legally vacated and further action was required before they could be filled.
Prenzler said he believes Monday’s meeting was valid. “There was a quorum, and it was a valid meeting, and the board had all authority to conduct the business in the meeting,” he said.
In his memo to Prenzler issuing his legal opinion Wednesday, Gibbons said he has been “besieged by contacts from board members of both parties.” He said the advice of the opinions bureau of the Illinois Attorney General was incorporated into his opinion that the meeting was illegal, that Adler could not preside over the meeting as he is no longer an elected or appointed official of the county, and that there could be significant complications of both the board’s and Gilstrap’s actions if there were challenges on the basis that the 19 new board members were never legally sworn into office.
Gibbons said he has recommended a process for a “do-over” meeting to resolve any questions about the legitimacy of the board’s actions. “The validity of the work of the County Board and county officeholders must remain above reproach,” he said.
Whether those “do-over” actions could take place Thursday evening would also be in question, as it is a special meeting of the board and the Open Meetings Act designates that only actions that appear on the agenda may take place during a special meeting. The agenda as posted only includes appointments for Hulme and Dorman, and the committee assignments and chairmanships for the County Board. The specific assignments have not been publicly released yet.
Prenzler said he does not believe a new reorganizational meeting is necessary.
Monday’s meeting was the first meeting of the new County Board after November’s election, in which the board switched from an 18-10 Democratic majority to a 15-13 Republican majority, each with one independent serving. Prenzler defeated long-time incumbent Chairman Alan Dunstan in November.
The board meets at 5 p.m. in the County Administration Building.