NEWTON, IL. (ECWd) -
A Federal lawsuit has been filed in the United States District Court Southern District of Illinois naming the following as Defendants:
- Board of Education of the Jasper County Community Unit School District Number 1
- Andrew D. Johnson, Superintendent
- Jon Fulton, President of the Board of Education
- Gordon Millsap, Vice-President of the Board of Education
- Holly Farley, Board Member
- Mandy Rieman, Board Member
- Melissa Stanley, Board Member
- Rob Street, Board Member
UPDATE: Watch our video report on this and other Jasper County School Board issues (click here).
This Complaint was filed by Jerry L. Earnest, Member of the Board of Education of Jasper County Community Unit School District Number 1.
This is a Two-Count Complaint alleging that 1) Defendants deprived Earnest with Liberty Interest in his elected position as School Board Member, and 2) Complainant's claim of Declaratory Relief
COUNT ONE states that the Superintendent and board notified Earnest that he would no longer have access to confidential board information (the same is given to other elected board members without question), did not provide any hearing process and thereby violated his due process, violated the rights of voters to have their elected representative be fully informed of matters he is required to vote on, and that Earnest has been irreparably harmed, embarrassed, humiliated, and suffered emotional disstress due to the actions of Superintendent Andrew Johnson and the Board of Education.
COUNT TWO asks for Declaratory Relief in that the issue is of substantial importance because it stripped, by governmental action, the rights of an elected official to perform his duties under the law, and stripped him of the liberty interest of his position as an elected official.
This situation comes out of a dispute between the School Superintendent and board members, with a fellow board member. From comments made at the Dec 18 board meeting, it is apparent this is nothing more than several board members' attempts at punishing a fellow board member, even though there is no statutory authority for them to dole out any punishment whatsoever.
This is a problem across the State, certain elected officials think they are entitled to more information than other elected officials, they think they can punish other elected officials even though they do not possess the power to do so, and they think they can restrict access to records of the public body to only those people they deem worthy of that access. This type of scenario always fails, but it is repeated election cycle after election cycle. The costs of defending this lawsuit rest entirely with the Defendants for improper actions they have taken. A board member seeking to regain access to records has a statutory right to those records and should never be held at fault.
What these Defendants fail to realize, is that it is not the job to extract punishment or revenge of a fellow elected official. They cannot legally do it.
In a similar court case dealing with an elected official's access to records of the public body, the Illinois Appellate Court has stated that: "It wasn't up to one or the other of them to be the keepers of the conscience of all the other people or to impose extra-statutory requirements upon this exchange of information among public officials." and "Elected officials are entitled to reasonable access to the books and records necessary to perform their function. That reasonable access cannot be doled out by the teaspoonful" (the Court explained unreasonable as being a phone call at 3 a.m. demanding access). The right of an elected official to examine the books and records is unequivocally "YES" and that "the public has an interest in seeing that their elected official perform the functions they were elected to do" and that "Any limits [to records access] will be decided by the voters. If she abuses her office as trustee. . . I'm sure that is a matter that will be brought to the attention of the voters."
The Appellate Court has also decided that an elected official did not have to use FOIA to obtain whatever records he or she was wishing to obtain. they could simply ask for those records, and they were to be provided them.