SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — The push to clean up a culture of corruption in Illinois could have the unintended short term consequence of flooding farm fields after all of the drainage experts in one local unit of government quit their jobs, leaving the office that monitors and manages flood risks vacant.
Larry Skinner, Dale Ewing, and Randy Mayhall informed the Douglas County Circuit Clerk’s office that they would rather step down from their unpaid government duties than submit to “intrusive” transparency laws.
The Newman Murdock Union Drainage District has a meager budget. It collects $10,579.80 in property taxes each year, and sets aside funds to upgrade or install new drainage tiles to prevent backed up water from flooding farm fields.
When farmers report a blown tile or an issue with water backing up into a field, the drainage district approves the expense and processes the payment to fix it. While the county continues collecting those taxes, there are no longer any officials in a position to approve spending funds on urgent infrastructure repairs.
“We’re only there to save the soil and stop the erosion in the ground and the run-off so it doesn’t get in our water supplies,” Skinner said in a Tuesday afternoon phone call. “We basically protect the environment. We try to correct things to the best of our ability. We only have so much money that’s in our budget every year. We handle no money. We turn in a voucher to the treasurer in Douglas County and they pay the bills.”
Skinner and Ewing both submitted letters of resignation, though county officials said Ewing was considering potentially rescinding his resignation and complying with the new ethics law. Mayhall verbally resigned, but had not yet submitted his letter in writing at the time of this report.
“All three of us have resigned because they’re asking us to list our wives, they’re involving our spouses, trying to get us to list things that we owe on or we buy together,” Skinner said. “It’s just stuff that’s totally nobody’s business.”
Skinner’s resignation letter noted it’s an unpaid position and he doesn’t personally handle any government funds.
“We just try to fix drainage problems and make our farm land better for all of the county,” he wrote.
Their resignations are the first reported cases of local officials who fulfill mundane tasks in unpaid government jobs who ditched their posts before a May 1st deadline to fill out the more stringent forms.
Skinner, a local farmer in Newman, Illinois, said he’d rather quit the job than reveal his personal financial information to the government.
“I prefer to resign,” he said in a March 17th letter. “The questions being asked by the Statement of Economic Interest and the potential liability it places on someone just trying to do what is right and helpful is just a problem I don’t need.”
In a March 4th letter to Governor Pritzker legislative leaders, the Illinois Municipal League warned that hundreds more local officials were “considering resigning their positions” because the new disclosure law was “too intrusive and personal.”
The letter said the new ethics law will have the “unintended consequence of pushing-out good local officials is significant, while bad officials at all levels will still likely ignore the rules and process completely.”
“I think the intent was good, because it’s to encourage greater transparency,” Decatur Mayor Julie Moore-Wolfe said in a Tuesday morning interview.
Wolfe, the President of the Illinois Municipal League, said she understood why lawmakers would want to shine a light on public officials who may be “married to a lobbyist, or that sort of thing.”
“You want to be transparent, and you want to see where there might be pitfalls for conflicts of interest,” she said. “I don’t have a problem with that. The problem is I’m worried about losing some of our commissioners or board members, when they see what it is.”
“Nobody wants to get in trouble, because if you falsify this document, that’s a big deal,” Moore-Wolfe said. “It’s a law. You have to file this paperwork, but it looks very, very intrusive. It looks like they’re gonna know more than the IRS knows about you.”
“It’s a very confusing form,” Moore-Wolfe said. “And the big concern is we’re going to lose people who don’t want to disclose any of this.”
The next election to fill the vacancies at the drainage district are scheduled for the first Tuesday in September. A judge could potentially appoint a replacement in the interim.