MARSHALL, IL. - (ECWd) -
At what point in time should public bodies who spend tax payer money for legal opinions demand the return of those funds or call for the firing of those attorneys when their opinions fail to meet the most basic standard of competence, and are proven wrong by common citizens willing to research the law?
It would take us days to cover all the times we have proven attorney's opinions wrong, and at one point we actually thought just maybe we were actually smarter than most of them. Turns out they are the smart ones as they are making a bundle of money off of the taxpayers with zero accountability to their advice.
For example, in the City of Marshall an alderman, Warren Lefever, identified illegal pay raises and after his attempts to demand accountability to the law, Mayor Sanders turned dictator and stripped him from all appointments to committees and "barred" him from attending closed sessions of those committee meetings.
Anyone that has been following our work can see the writing on the wall, but for the newcomers I will explain. The Mayor kicked things into high gear and the cover up began. (Click Here for previous article on that issue)
When Mr. Lefever attempted to attend closed meetings he was banned from them at the advice and council of the Mayor's hand picked attorney, Dick James.
Dick James made the following statements in an e-mail to Mr. Lefever regarding him not being allowed to attend closed meetings of a committee of city council.
"It is my opinion that an alderman can and probably should be banned from any closed meetings on committees which the alderman is not a member"
"The alderman is technically no different than any other individual in this instance and to allow them to attend would raise questions under the open meetings act as to the committees ability to bar the public from the closed meeting."
"This is my opinion and the opinion of others that I have consulted, but there is no specific case law that I found on the subject. This opinion is based upon a common sense interpretation of the existing laws."
Mr. James is the smart one from a stand point he got paid for this advice, however this advice violates the most basic principals of our form of government. He put money in his pocket (or could have) for his opinion that failed to provide one shred of supporting information other than a claim he talked to others.
He should be fired and all fees paid returned!
Our credibility comes from the fact we research questions and identify what the legal authorities in this state had determined on key subjects relating to public bodies. The research done on this matter took less than a day and the results were substantial enough that once our research was shared with Alderman Lefever, who then shared it with Mr. James, he REVERSED his previous decision and now believes that he can in fact attend closed sessions of committees that he is not a member of, because he is a member of the city council that the committee is a part of.
Before getting to the evidence we must point out key comments made by Mr. James and compare them to the legal opinions handed down from the state.
- "It is my opinion that an alderman can and probably should be banned from any closed meetings on committees which the alderman is not a member" Dick James
Well, isn't that special. An attorney who is supposed to represent the entire city council thinks an alderman can and should be banned from closed meetings if they are not a member. That's a real sign of doing what the Mayor wants, not what the law supports. Closed meetings are never mandatory, but optional. They "may" go into closed session! That basic word "may" should have been an indicator for most lawyers.
Attorney General Scott stated: a perusal of exceptions ... that might possibly pertain to a committee of a county board (insert city alderman) reveals nothing that would indicate an intent to prevent a member of the county board (insert city alderman), who is not a member of the particular committee, from attending a closed session of the committee meeting.
He goes on to say, "Since a committee of the county board (insert city alderman) is primarily organized to gather facts, and make recommendations to the county board (insert city alderman) upon which the board may be called to act, it makes no sense to prevent a fellow board member from attending the closed session of the committee meeting. Even when the committee is exercising a ministerial function, it is still acting as the agent of the entire board and a fellow board member ought not be prevented from attending meetings of a committee. It is a well-known principle of statutory construction that when a statute is capable of two constructions, the one that will produce mischievous or ludicrous results should be avoided. (People ex rel. Brenza v Edwards ; Ill. National Bank V Chegin 35 Ill."
So as y0u can see, the Attorney general stated it is a "well-known" principle of statutory construction yet Mr. James fails to apply such construction to his opinion. Even worse is the second statement he made that an alderman not on the committee is no different than any other individual. As you can see with the AG's opinion, again Mr. James gets it all wrong! An alderman is in fact distinctively different than an individual not on the board and has distinctive responsibilities.
Mr James closed out his e-mail with a statement that his opinion is based on a common sense interpretation of the existing laws. Thanks Mr. James, however you failed the city council and the rest of the taxpayers with that opinion. Not only is it not common sense application of the law it is a twisted interpretation we believe established to keep Mr. Lefever out of closed meetings at the request of the Mayor. And for the record, even the Attorney General stated it makes no sense to prevent a fellow board member from attending the closed session of the committee meeting.
If a couple of common citizens can find the answer to this matter and do so for nothing, one must ask, what are they paying the attorney for? We are glad to see that he reversed his position on the closed meeting attendance issue but that's not good enough. With a claim the Watchdogs are costing the city thousands of dollars in legal bills may I suggest you not pay them considering the opinions you are getting are worse than a first year law student would provide, let alone proven wrong by the very Watchdogs you're complaining about.
Public bodies should have attorneys to ensure they comply with their statutory duties, not present opinions based on "their" common sense, especially when it is clear their common sense is not so common!
Mr. James you should return all billed hours for the pathetic legal advice you have charged to the taxpayers of Marshall on this matter. It is a disgrace!
Stay tuned for the next slam dunk pertaining to the opinion that board members are not allowed to review closed meeting records unless it is with the entire board present.
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