Schmack defends county board decision to 'stand at ease'
SYCAMORE - DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack released a legal memo Friday defending the county board's decision to "stand at ease" in two groups to discuss electing their chairman Dec. 3.
Schmack, whose office represents the county board, said the incident was not an Open Meetings Act violation as the two informal groups were discussing political matters, not public business.
"During the 10-minute period when the County Board stood 'at ease,' the caucuses of the respective parties met separately, in full view of the public," Schmack wrote in the memo. "It seems obvious, viewed in the context of the meeting, that the caucuses were discussing a purely political matter, being whether to stand on the nominees that each party had offered for Board Chair, or effect a change in strategy."
On Dec. 3, the newly elected county board members were sworn in, and the new county board began discussing who should be the chairman. A prearranged agreement fell apart during public discussion at the meeting, so board members first suggested going into recess and heading to separate meeting rooms. The county board is evenly split, 12-12, between Republicans and Democrats.
Pat Vary, D-DeKalb, who served as temporary chairwoman, suggested Democrats go to the Liberty Room and Republicans go to the Freedom Room.
Schmack advised the board such a move would be in violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Then, County Board members suggested standing at ease to allow an ad-hoc committee to meet, which Schmack also advised against. During the roughly 15-minute ordeal in the public portion of the meeting, board members Paul Stoddard, D-DeKalb, and Charles Foster, R-Shabbona, were in off-microphone discussions with each other.
After the discussion, the Republicans changed their nomination from Ken Andersen, R-Sycamore, to John Gudmunson, R-Somonauk. Jeff Metzger, R-Sandwich, won the chairmanship, 12-11, with all Democrats voting for Metzger. Bob Brown, D-Dekalb, was absent.
The discussions before voting to stand "at ease" made it "abundantly clear that they were searching for the appropriate method to break for a political caucus," Schmack wrote in his memo.
"Generally, it is difficult to imagine anything they might discuss which would be purely political, and not public business, except for the selection of nominees, replacement of nominees or a decision to name no nominees for the offices of chair and vice-chair," Schmack wrote. "The election of these officials is public business, but a decision regarding names to be placed in nomination seems to be political and partisan in nature."
On Dec. 3, Schmack advised against allowing members to meet in separate rooms because he thought they might go elsewhere and meet secretly and illegally as a committee-of-the-whole. He would have supported allowing the caucuses to meet separately if the motion to recess had clearly stated that.
Video of the meeting is available at dekalbcounty.org.