Key language found in the laws for our public bodies sets the stage for all action taken. "may sue and be sued"
(55 ILCS 5/5-1001) Sec. 5-1001. Corporate name of county. Each county which has been, or may be established in this State, according to the laws thereof, shall be a body politic and corporate, by the name and style of "The county of ....," and by that name may sue and be sued, plead and may be impleaded, defend and be defended against in any court having jurisdiction of the subject-matter, or other place where justice shall be administered. (Source: P.A. 86-962.)
What this law indicates is that Shelby County may sue and be sued. That is important to know when it comes to contracts the County enters into.
5-1005 of the County Code outlines the specific powers given to the County, in which such powers are managed by the County Board. One of those powers is the power to contract.
55 ILCS 5/5-1005
3. To make all contracts and do all other acts in relation to the property and concerns of the county necessary to the exercise of its corporate powers.
Reviewing the farm ground leases the County entered into we identified parties named in the agreement that has no power to be a party in a county contract.
According to the lease agreements, whoever prepared them listed the County Farm Committee members as a party to the contract and those members signed the contracts along with the Signature of the County Chairman. The problem with that is the fact Committees have no power to enter into contracts nor do their members have the power to sign them. While a Committee can make recommendations to the full county board, they have no power to be a party to a contract.
This all comes down to "may sue and be sued". There is no provision for a Farm Committee to sue or be sued so listing them on the contract is not proper. In the event the private party was to bring a judicial action, they would believe they could name those very members however doing so would mean nothing because those members can't be sued as such power was never given to them. In such a situation, any action naming them would be dismissed, provided the legal counsel representing the county understands the key provision in the County Code.
While we raised concerns over the lease of farm ground for private use in this article, we note that these contracts contain extensions. Our investigation found that the farm ground is not being bid out, which if legal to do, should be bid out to ensure everyone is given the chance to compete for the business. It appears these contracts have been going to the same person year after year. That is an indicator of potential favoritism which always raises concerns when it deals with taxpayer funds.
We urge in the future that the County ensure only those legally allowed to contract (County of Shelby), be named on the contract. We also urge when contracting for services that they put it out for bid.