St. Clair Township is cooperating with an investigation by the Illinois Attorney General’s office after more than 20 citizen complaints of Open Meetings Act violations were lodged against the township.
“Everything (the Attorney General’s office) is requesting, we’re replying back,” Township Supervisor Dave Barnes said.
According to a letter from Assistant Attorney General Shari West of the Public Access Bureau to Township City Clerk Brenda Reed, the township was asked to respond in writing to allegations and provide a copy of the meeting notice, agenda and minutes.
“This office has determined that further inquiry is necessary,” the letter states.
A call to the attorney general’s office about the status of the investigation was not immediately returned Monday.
The complaints were filed with the attorney general’s public access counselor, Sarah Pratt, alleging a violation took place when some members of the public were kept out of a meeting on Feb. 24.
The township building at 107 Service St. in Swansea, where meetings take place, has a maximum occupancy of 76 people. Members of the public who attended last month’s meeting were asked to sign in on a numbered sheet of paper. After 76 names appeared on the list, the doors were closed, minutes before the meeting was called to order, and people left outside were not able to enter the locked building.
The Feb. 24 meeting was the first township meeting after residents were notified about a planned increase to their sewer rates if their waste water is treated at the Swansea sewer plant.
St. Clair County Board member Bob Trentman, who resigned from the St. Clair Township Board of Trustees in 2012, said during the meeting that everyone could move a few feet away to a heated warehouse where everyone wanting to attend the meeting could easily fit.
Trentman said he made a request six days before the meeting to be put on the meeting agenda and that the request was denied. Barnes said that was “because we have public comments” built into each meeting.
According to the Open Meetings Act, meetings must be open to the public unless the public body is considering any of the act’s 31 excepted subjects that allow — but not require — the public body to close the meeting. The public body is also required to cite the specific exemption that allows the closure of the meeting.
Requests for Review by the Public Access Counselor must be filed within 60 days after the alleged violation takes place. A violation of the Act is a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.