The Office of the Attorney General received five requests for review of the Open Meetings Act from DeWitt County residents in regards to the DeWitt County Board meeting on May 21.
Regional Radio News has obtained documents of the letters that were sent out between May 22 and May 26, the subsequent letter of notice from the Attorney General's office to DeWitt County Board Chair David Newberg of the allegations, and the response from DeWitt County Assistant State's Attorney Tim Holl.
The allegations were submitted by Olivia Klemm, Betsy Shifflet, Andrea Rhoades, Melissa Crutcher, and Aaron Kammeyer. The allegations laid out by the five suggest the opening meetings act was violated because of connectivity issues to the Zoom call. Additionally, allegations were made of bullying by the Board Chair during time allotted for those from the public to address the Board, and no public comment period designated on the agenda.
The Attorney General's office is reviewing the complaints and requested response from Board Chair Newberg or his representation, the State's Attorney. Assistant State's Attorney Holl in response recognized the public may have had connectivity issues, however, the board made the meeting available via One tap mobile option, which allowed anyone to dial a number and provide a meeting ID and password, which did not require an internet connection.
Additionally, the methods of access to the meeting for the public were in line with the Governor's executive order regarding the open meetings act during the coronavirus pandemic.
The community members raised concerns over there being only 30 minutes for public comment and each speaker being allotted only five minutes to speak. Holl wrote quote - "The Open Meetings Act provides for public comments during meetings subject to rules established by the public body".
Continued - "DeWitt County ordinances in relevant part, limits the length of time for any individual speaker to five minutes and limits the total time for public comment at any individual meeting to 30 minutes."
He also points to the ordinance and its allowance for the Chair to curtail a speaker if they are repeating a comment that was previously made.
Citing concerns over the special meeting on June 2 to vote on the Tradewind Energy special use permit that was ultimately postponed, Holl wrote quote - "Several speakers wished to address the Board regarding either whether the permit should be granted or whether the vote should be held. Although neither of these issues was on the agenda and no board member had made any mentions regarding this issue, the Chair allowed everyone to speak."
His comments continued, quote - "The Chair did not cut anyone off from speaking except the last speaker. By the time the last speaker began, 30 minutes had lapsed and the Chair was acting within the provisions of the County's ordinance and Open Meetings Act when he cut the speaker off. In total, the Chair allowed approximately 47 minutes of public comment."
DeWitt County Board Chair David Newberg confirmed his receipt of the notice from the Attorney General's Office and the response from the DeWitt County State's Attorney's office. He says they have sent back everything requested from the Attorney General's office and are now waiting on a decision.
Newberg is confident the County Board and its representation followed the guidance for a virtual meeting per the open meetings act and Governor JB Pritzker's executive order.
The County Board has been hosting virtual meetings since April due to the guidelines laid out by health officials during the coronavirus pandemic. Newberg indicates every step of the way, they are communicating with the State's Attorney's office to make sure they are doing everything correctly.
Newberg anticipates resolution on the matter in the next weeks, well ahead of the July 14 scheduled vote for the Tradewind Energy Special use permit vote for their Alta Farms II wind project in northwest DeWitt County.