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Government Local

Library, state's attorney reach agreement on OMA violation


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From the Editor's Desk blog: Mac McIntyre's take on the library OMA settlementState's attorney complaintConsent decreeMay 12 closed session minutes

SYCAMORE – A long-awaited civil complaint was filed Tuesday against the DeKalb Library Board by the DeKalb County state’s attorney, and the two sides filed an agreement the same afternoon.

State’s Attorney John Farrell began investigating the library board over the summer. Concerns were raised by local media and residents about whether a library board vote to enter into a purchase agreement to buy the old DeKalb Clinic property for a new facility violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

On Tuesday, Farrell filed a civil complaint charging the board with violating the act when it went into closed session May 12 without citing the exemption to the act that allowed it to close the meeting, and again when it voted on the purchase agreement in closed session. Under the act, all final actions must take place in open session.

The complaint was followed immediately by the filing of a consent degree, an agreement reached by attorneys for both sides. In the decree, the library board admits the meeting was closed in an unintentional violation of the Open Meetings Act. However, it maintains the vote on the purchase agreement did not violate the act because it was not a “final action.”

Farrell said a second vote taken in open session Aug. 11 resolved that violation.

“The August vote, in my opinion, ratified the earlier vote,” Farrell said. “That ratification did cure the problem from my standpoint.”

Under the consent decree, the library board is ordered to abide by the Open Meetings Act in the future and to hold periodic training concerning the act’s requirements when the act changes or if there is turnover in staff and trustees.

The decree also requires the library board to make the minutes of the May 12 closed session available to the public within three days.

The court retains jurisdiction in the case, meaning if there were a violation of any of the terms of the agreement, the board could be held in contempt of court, Farrell said.

In signing the decree, Presiding Judge Kurt Klein said he was glad the two sides resolved the issue, which he said was “ripe to be closed.”

Klein said he fears such situations might inhibit good people from serving on volunteer boards and commissions.

“We get good people from the community who contribute their time, energies and talents to serve the community with no gain for themselves, and they get caught up in something this technical,” Klein said. “My fear is that things like this discourage other good people from coming forward and serving the community.”

Dee Coover, DeKalb Public Library director, did not immediately return a phone message left Tuesday seeking comment on the decision. Neither did Mac McIntyre, a DeKalb resident who runs a local blog. McIntyre has filed a formal complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office regarding this issue. In September, he told the Daily Chronicle he was waiting to see what Farrell decided before pursuing the issue further.

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