Shelby Co. (ECWd) -
The recent Shelby County Board agenda included, once again, the leasing of county farm ground. Considering this matter has been voted on multiple times and failed, I assumed a defibrillator was going to be brought to the meeting to shock the dead horse back to life and then they would put him out to pasture on the farm ground.
According to Nichole Kroncke, Shelby County State's Attorney, the money coming to the county from a farm lease to a private farmer constitutes a public purpose. We have disagreed with that position for years based on our research and input from many sources, including attorneys.
While continuing research on this matter it has become crystal clear why county government cannot lease farm ground to a private farmer outside the very specific statutes permitting it, which in the case of Shelby County do not apply.
Today's findings come from a simple abandonment of Google as a search engine and the use of Duck Duck Go.
A recent letter from the Illinois Attorney General had all kinds of legal references and statements of which one jumped out like a wild horse from behind a barn door.
":....when the General Assembly expressly authorizes a county to lease county property to a private entity, there is a presumption that a proper public purpose exists."
The reason there is that presumption is that the Constitution still applies and any adopted law must conform accordingly. When it does not they can be declared unconstitutional.
While the county is authorized to lease property to a private entity, it is crystal clear and supported by case law, there is a presumption that a proper public purpose exists. In the recent discussion of the law on which Kroncke relies, she has ignored that there is a presumption that a lease to a private entity has a public purpose. She has stated several times that making money from the lease meets the public purpose clause. While using a different search engine, I went to the case law referenced in the Attorney General's letter. One of the results while searching would be a good read for everyone who has any confusion on what constitutes a public purpose in Illinois.
According to the Illinois Constitution Annotated for the Legislature, Kroncke's position that making money from the ground constitutes a public purpose is wrong.
As found on page 127 of the official state document on the issue of the use of public funds, property, and credit is not just about consideration to the county:
"Several Attorney General’s opinions have addressed leasing of county-owned real estate to other persons or organizations. Those several Attorney General’s opinions have addressed leasing of county-owned real estate to other persons or organizations. Those opinions advised that not only must such leases be for adequate consideration to the county (unless the county is authorized by law to make a donation to the lessee), but the use to which the lessee puts the property must itself benefit the public, such as providing space for other units of government or for legislators."
Lets' break this down:
- Lessee: - The Farmer
- Use to which the farmer puts the property - private interest of which the public has no benefit
A private farming operation does not benefit the public but rather the private interest of the farmer. To better understand this we urge everyone to read page 127 to learn how the courts have looked at private use of public property.
"The Illinois Supreme Court has upheld, as serving a public purpose, use of public assets or credit for urban redevelopment, industrial development, creation of and aid to mass transit, expanding facilities for the public to attend sporting events, enforcing child-support obligations, and even transporting students to private schools along regular public school bus routes."
In each example above there is a public purpose that benefits the public.
Public purpose is not just about making money as this county board is being told. Public purpose has two prongs that must be applied, and clearly, private farming is not a public benefit and does not meet the public purpose provision in our constitution.
While the leasing of farm ground failed once again, other matters of concern have yet to be resolved.
- Illegal gun sales by the Sheriff
- Alleged payroll fraud in excess of $400,000
- Illegal use of the public property by the County Highway Engineer who operated his private business out of county facilities
- Alleged Insurance Fraud
We will continue to update the public on these matters if and when they get resolved.