By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Don’t worry if you see a large number of county officials, including some involved in emergency services, gathered Monday at the Effingham County Emergency Management building.
They are not responding to an emergency by meeting in the building on Miracle Avenue, located on the far south side of Effingham. And the meeting, which will include many elected officials, is legal. In fact, the public can attend as well since it is a public meeting.
Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler scheduled the meeting for all elected officials and appointed board members of Effingham County at 1 p.m. for one simple purpose: training on the Open Meetings Act.
The OMA requires public notice and open discussion during government meetings with some exceptions, such as litigation, collective bargaining negotiations, personnel discipline matters and others.
Kibler said the meeting is needed because the Effingham County Board has been accused of violating the OMA this year, including one incident cited by the Illinois Attorney General’s office regarding a closed session discussion on litigation that went beyond that subject. The county also failed to post a meeting notice on the county government website in the spring. That also violates a requirement of the OMA.
Kibler said these incidents were “unintentional and simply honest mistakes.” For example, the subject discussed in the closed session involved an ambulance provider contract with a link to the settlement of a lawsuit that fell under the litigation exception of the OMA. But the contract discussion went beyond that exception as the AG office ruled.
County board members have voted to release copies of the minutes of that closed session to show the nature of the violation.
Even if unintentional, Kibler said county government officials must do better to follow the requirements of the OMA. At Monday’s meeting, attorneys from the AG’s office will provide education on the state’s OMA. Public officials can ask questions and receive quick feedback through the meeting format.
Kibler said the training should improve local government officials’ ability to avoid common mistakes involving OMA.
“As public officials of Effingham County, we are obligated to improve ourselves as public servants,” Kibler wrote in a letter urging officials to attend the training. Plus, members of the public can learn more about the Open Meetings Act as well.