Cook Co. (ECWd) -
Maine Township violated the Open Meetings Act during their November 28th, 2017, meeting by allowing the Clerk to vote and instructing three board members that they must abstain. The violation covered in this article lead to this article confirming the Attorney General Public Access Counselor was looking into the matter.
Before we get into the deep dive on the attorney's response letter we have a message for the Township Supervisor Laura Morask. Ms. Morask, as a lawyer, how on earth do you come up with the idea that you have a right to tell anyone "how" they must vote? The fact is, no one, has the authority to instruct a person how to cast their vote on any matter. Any elected officials that take such a measure should resign immediately in our opinion.
Now for the letter, the Township Attorney sent to the PAC office.
"I am the attorney for Maine Township ("Township") and have been instructed to respond to the January 4, 2018 letter you sent to the Township concerning the OMA Request for Review referenced above."
How interesting! "....have been instructed to respond..."? The Board members I have spoken with were not privy to any such instruction given to the attorney by the Board. So who instructed the response? If it was the Supervisor, I would argue she has once again stepped over the line. Only the Board can determine to create a debt to the Township outside of General Assistance. That being the case, who is paying the legal bill for this response when the board never voted to have an attorney respond to the PAC?
"As none of the newly trustees participated in this closed session, they abstained from voting."
Not exactly the whole truth Mr. Dowd. Those trustees were instructed to abstain by the Supervisor, which was completely out of her authority. Nice trick leaving out the fact they were instructed to abstain.
"was a result of a mistaken belief that the Clerk, in this case, could provide the vote which would
meet the 3 vote threshold required by OMA and the Township Code"
Mistaken belief? Is this confirmation by the Township Attorney that the Supervisor was in fact WRONG?
Of course not, as the attorney goes on to claim it was his failure for not advising the board on how to vote on such a matter.
"This mistake was the direct result of my failure to advise the Board that the Clerk is not a voting member of the Board except in the case of a tie vote to fill a vacancy in office. While I was not present at the meeting, I had reviewed the Agenda in advance and should have provided guidance and advice to the Board on the voting requirements for this item."
Why would the attorney need to provide guidance and advice on voting requirements on this matter? Are they any different than any other matter being voted on, outside of a vacancy? His attempt to take the blame for Morask's total failure with this response tells us that Maine Township should be looking for a new attorney.
If we are to believe what the attorney told the PAC, that this was his failure, how does he explain the fact he was present at previous meetings where the same thing happen? All indications are that the Supervisor and the attorney are asleep at the wheel. We believe both should resign.
"The audio tape in question was destroyed prior to the Township receiving any request for a copy of it."
That claim is problematic but proves a point as it relates to the games being played in Maine Township.
The statement may be true on its face, as the trustee that requested to listen to it did not request a copy. So knowing a person wanted to listen to it, they ignore that request and destroy the record without proper votes and tell the PAC it was done prior to any request for a copy, all while ignoring the fact the request was to listen to it, not a request for a copy. Those are common lawyer wordsmithing games we see on matters like this.
Another example of the wordsmithing games:
"The Township has decided going forward to retain the audio cassettes of special meetings indefinitely in order to ensure that it will be available to the public after the minutes of a closed session are released for public inspection."
How special Attorney Dowd! We are so pleased you have informed the PAC that you will retain audio cassettes of "special meetings" going forward. Why did you qualify the retention would apply to special meetings and not all meetings?
The bottom line, in this case, Laura Morask improperly instructed other members on how to vote then allowed the destruction of records without a majority vote. This is yet another OMA violation by this veteran Township official.