Misdemeanor charges against county board members allege OMA violations

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MONTICELLO, Ill. (WCIA) — Five of six board members in Piatt County are facing misdemeanor charges after a county board meeting held via Zoom didn’t allow some members of the public to rejoin the conferencing service after it appeared to be disconnected for an executive session.

Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Dobson filed the charges against board chairman Ray Spencer and members Dale Lattz, Renee Fruendt, Shannon Carroll and Bob Murrell Friday afternoon.

Those charges allege members violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act by failing to ensure “public access” to the entirety of a county board meeting via the audio conferencing service.

On Wednesday evening, county board members met for a regularly-scheduled meeting via a public Zoom call; toward the end of the meeting, the call appeared to be disconnected when the board members went into a closed portion of the meeting.

Following the closed-session discussion, board members resumed the Zoom call they had started more than an hour earlier, but not all members of the public were reconnected, with some missing the portion of the meeting where the board voted in favor of increasing the salart of the circuit clerk — an elected office currently held by Seth Floyd –by $2,000.

Randy Shumard was the only member to not attend Wednesday’s meeting — calling the move a “protest” against meetings held at night — and is not included among the charged.

If any of the five board members charged is convicted of the Class C misdemeanor, he or she could face fines up to $1,000 and/or up to 30 days in jail.

Friday’s filing marks another court matter faced by Piatt County board members already in the first half of the year: In January, a grand jury indicted Spencer on felony charges of official misconduct and forgery; grand jury proceedings extended to include subpoenaing the rest of the board members and county officials later that month.

Nearly two months later in March, Piatt County board members were named in a legal complaint that requested the courts vacate guidance from Spencer that blocked the county’s ability to purchase COVID-19-specific supplies. That complaint was dropped two weeks later after the board voted to provide previously-cut funding to the county’s Emergency Management Agency for the purchases.

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