LaHarpe, IL. (ECWd) -
We attended the LaHarpe City Council Meeting last night to observe discussion on Agenda item number 8, which was to discuss the use of city equipment on private property (see the previous article here). The Mayor did not attend, presumably because the attorney could not attend. For some reason, he won't show up for a meeting unless the attorney is also present - another waste of public funds.
During public comment, John Kraft talked about the proper way for a sitting public official to contest a debt owed the municipality.
The options are: - Pay the bill - Contest the bill - Do nothing (and be removed from office) - Resign and still pay the bill. Any other attempt at "negotiating" for the bill is contrary to established law, in this case, the Illinois Municipal Code, Article 3.1, Division 15, Section 50, Paragraph c(4) et seq (65 ILCS 5/3.1-10-50(c)(4)) which is an addition to the Illinois Municipal Code effective 8-24-2015. (read it here)
It gives step-by-step instructions on contesting a debt owed to the municipality by a municipal officer, which gives them the right to contest the debt prior to being removed from office for owing a debt. These are not optional provisions of the Illinois Municipal Code and must be followed. LaHarpe had previously decided to give their attorney the authority to "negotiate" the legality and amount of the arrearage of a water bill to the mayor. In our opinion, the city council did not have the authority to take that action and the city attorney does not have the authority to negotiate anything related to a debt owed by the municipal officer, it must be in an open hearing with a hearing officer making the final determination.
Kirk Allen talked about the Constitutional requirement found in Article VIII that: Public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes. He also talked about "Official Misconduct" for taking actions in violation of law (like using city equipment on private property).
Later in the meeting, the council acknowledged that they realize now it is a violation of the State Constitution and criminal act to use public equipment to work on private property and stated that it would never happen again.
They also said the Mayor had written a $50 check to pay for the work that was done, but they gave the check to the police chief to be used as part of the ongoing criminal investigation into the illegal use of public property.
We will continue reporting on LaHarpe as the situation unfolds.
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