News Report Staff

Effingham County Board last week approved the release of more than three years of closed session minutes from the Ambulance Oversight Committee and approved Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance for participating county employees.

All board members on Oct. 5 unanimously approved the release of ambulance oversight committee closed session minutes from July 1, 2014, to April 25 of this year. The release comes after the settlement of a lawsuit involving Altamont Ambulance owner Terry White and the county board for alleged breaches of contract. The settlement in the spring ended the county’s ambulance service contract with White, which opened the way for Abbott EMS, a St. Louis-based ambulance provider, to handle 911 emergency calls for the next five years. A transition period was arranged between the outgoing ambulance service and Abbott during the summer months, and that phase ended weeks ago.

“Abbott has been running here for more than a month now. There are no complaints I’m aware of. There was a glitch on radio calls but that has been corrected. It was a technical problem that was easily fixed,” Niemann said.

Effingham County Board Chairman Jim Niemann said it is part of the public disclosure process to release closed session minutes regarding a lawsuit when the case has been settled. The release of all the minutes had been delayed because the resolution was proposed during the Sept. 18 board meeting, but the matter had not been on the agenda. That required a special meeting of the board to vote on the release of minutes.

Complicating the release of minutes were several Open Meetings Act violation complaints filed against the county board. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office ruled last month the board should release some of the minutes deemed in violation of the Act, but the board wanted to provide full context on the committee discussions by releasing all closed session minutes.

“We wanted so people could put it in context so we wanted to release everything,” Niemann explained. Copies of the closed session minutes can be reviewed at the Effingham County Clerk’s office during regular office hours, or arrangements can be made for copies of the minutes.

The vast majority of the county’s 115 full-time employees are expected to participate in the Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance plan, which offers health savings accounts and traditional options. Weis Insurance of Effingham is the local agent. One step to finalize the insurance agreement is setting the employees’ share of costs. That will be decided at a future county board meeting.