FIRST IN PRINT No Open Meetings Act violation in Germantown Hills

DeWayne Bartels
Germantown Hills has welcomed a lot of new people since 2000. The U.S. Census Bureau population estimate places the village's growth in the last nine years at more than 50 percent.

Germantown Hills Village Board Trustee Terry Quinn has been absolved of violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act by attending the village’s Feb. 7 planning commission meeting.

GTH Trustee Clark Hopkins filed the complaint with the Illinois Attorney General alleging Quinn violated the Open Meetings Act. Hopkins said it appeared Quinn violated the act by attending the meeting when he and GTH Mayor Kenny Mitchell were already there.

Quinn has complained in the past that Hopkins, who is the village board liaison for the planning commission, urged Mitchell to attend all the meetings to lock out all other trustees.

Documents concerning the case were obtained by the Woodford Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Quinn sent an email to all members of the village board on Feb. 5 indicating he wanted to attend the Feb. 7 planning commission meeting.

In the email Quinn wrote, “To avoid violation of the (Open Meetings Act) I’d appreciate it if just Clark (Hopkins) and I from the (village board) were at the meeting.”

Mitchell responded later that day stating it was a special meeting and he planned to attend.

Hopkins and Mitchell were already at the meeting when Quinn arrived.

Quinn decided to attend regardless, and addressed the planning commission.

Hopkins, on Feb. 10, notified village attorney Richard Joseph of Quinn’s action.

He also advised Joseph he wanted to file a complaint against Quinn for possibly violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

Hopkins, Quinn and Mitchell had already been advised in a letter from Joseph on Dec. 21, 2010, of the dangers of this type of action concerning an earlier similar situation.

On Dec. 14, 2010, at another meeting of the planning commission the same three were at the meeting and engaged in discussion of issues with the planning commission.

Joseph, after the fact, advised all village board members that a majority of a quorum for the village board is three.

Joseph advised the entire village board that three members gathering even at a public meeting could constitute a technical violation of the law and result in legal action.

“The state’s attorney can prosecute individuals for violations of the Act and any member of the public body who violates the Act would be deemed to have committed a Class C misdemeanor. Since all three of you were present, if the state’s attorney was inclined to pursue this matter, it is possible that all three of you could be charged,” Joseph advised in his letter.

Joseph went on to say that while it is not a violation for three members to attend they should “resist the temptation to engage in any type of discussion. Alternatively, the three members present should decide who will leave the meeting.”

Hopkins, in an email to Joseph, said Quinn participated in the discussions at the Feb. 7 planning commission meeting and addressed political matters.

Upon receipt of the complaint the attorney general’s office concluded the matter deserved further inquiry.

Joseph asked the two trustees and mayor to write down their recollections of that evening.

“It was my plan from the outset not to speak unless needed,” Quinn wrote.

“It was also my plan that if (Mitchell) and (Hopkins) had spoken before I did, I would not speak ...”

Mitchell and Hopkins offered statements outlining the discussions that night that were similar in nature.

The attorney general’s office found Quinn had not violated the Open Meetings Act.  

On April 15, Joseph received a letter from Amanda Lundeen, assistant public access counselor for the Illinois Attorney General.

The letter stated, under the circumstances there was no violation found.

“The rationale advanced by the attorney general’s office is that, because the three elected officials did not deliberate amongst themselves, nor did they address the commission on the same matter of public business, there was no violation,” Joseph told board members in an email.

Joseph added, “The risk of an inadvertent violation is, in our opinion, heightened by three elected officials attending such meetings. Accordingly, the attorney general urges (as do we) all board members to exercise extreme caution in attending any gathering which may, if inappropriate discussions were to occur, lead to a violation of the Open Meetings Act.”