Board members could face more charges for overcompensation

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MONTICELLO, Ill. (WCIA) — More charges could be coming against a troubled county board.

Piatt County board members are already facing misdemeanor charges for allegedly violating the state’s Open Meetings Act in May; board chairman Ray Spencer was indicted in January on four felony charges of forgery and official misconduct.

Now, charges of felony theft could be around the corner, depending on what a special prosecutor decides. State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades said that financial records from the past several months would be turned over to a special prosecutor for review, after board members claimed payments for multiple meetings per day.

In March, a local watchdog group noted that the resolution guiding the board on how to pay themselves for their work at meetings didn’t align with state law. While the Illinois Counties Code specifies that payment for board members should be “computed on a per diem basis, on an annual basis or on a combined per diem and annual basis,” Piatt County’s compensation resolution allowed for payments of $60 per each committee meeting and $75 for every full county board meeting.

In a three month period between 2019 and 2020, Spencer, for instance, attended 63 meetings — with several falling on the same day — and was overpaid more than $3,000 in county money.

Claims records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by WCIA from March-July 2020 show that, with the exception of April, the pattern of claiming payments per meeting on the same day has continued for multiple board members. Over that five month period, members in total — with the exception of Randy Shumard and Dale Lattz — were overpaid just more than $2,500.

From March to July, Spencer was overpaid $1,500 in county money, according to records. In that same time period, board member Shannon Carroll was overpaid by $420 and members Renee Fruendt and Bob Murrell were both over paid by $300. Spencer, Carroll, Fruendt and Murrell all declined requests for comment or clarification on the claims.

Shumard and Lattz were the only board members in that time period who didn’t appear to have overages; Lattz said that since the issue was brought up earlier this year, he has “not (been) claiming more than one a day.” He added that “starting in December or January” he had attempted to claim fewer meetings than he actually attended due to county budget strains.

And while the resolution the board adopted in 2016 may not have the legally correct wording, Rhoades said that in April, her office had drafted a new resolution that clarified members should only be paid per diem, in accordance with state law.

That resolution, however, never made it to an agenda — not in April, May, June, July or August.

Piatt County’s bylaws task the board chairman with preparing “with the assistance of the Committee Chairmen and County Officials, an agenda for each regular meeting.”

But Lattz said Thursday that’s not entirely how the process actually plays out. When asked by WCIA who sets the board agenda, Lattz said Spencer, as chairman, does that by himself, alongside County Clerk Jennifer Harper.

“We can ask or suggest items (for the agenda), but the chairman has the final say,” he said. “We don’t do that as a group.”

Rhoades said she never heard back when — or if — the resolution to align the county’s compensation policy with state law would ever make a board meeting agenda.

In the meantime, she said, it’s likely that board financial records will be passed along to a special prosecutor for review. The special prosecutor will decide whether or not to press charges against board members who’ve repeatedly paid themselves for multiple meetings per day.

Previously publicized investigations into the county by the Illinois State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigations and multiple grand juries remain ongoing.

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