ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP – Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon sent a letter to Board Chairman Chris Lauzen telling him that the newly created Coronavirus Relief Fund Task Force is subject to the Open Meetings Act.
The task force was created to make recommendations on the $92.9 million the county is to receive through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Lauzen said the task force met on April 27 and on May 4 without public notice, minutes, recordings or being open to the public.
But after receiving McMahon’s May 8 letter, Lauzen said he canceled the task force meeting scheduled for Monday.
“As usual, Joe McMahon wants to make this more complicated,” Lauzen said. “And that’s his prerogative. … We won’t have task force meetings unless they are public."
Advisory bodies subject to Open Meetings Act
McMahon issued the letter after receiving a question from a board member who could not find anything on the county’s website regarding an agenda, public notice or minutes about the task force.
In an email, McMahon stated his letter referred to a news release from Lauzen stating the task force is “to provide research, analysis and recommendations to the Executive Committee of the Kane County Board related to the CARES Act.”
As the committee will be accepting research, analysis and recommendations, McMahon’s letter stated, the task force is “an advisory group to influence the expenditure of pubic funds. Advisory bodies of government units are specifically included within the ambit of the Open Meetings Act:
“‘Public body’ includes all legislative, executive, administrative or advisory bodies of the State, counties …’” and then the letter cites state statute.
“Therefore, all meetings of this body should be treated as any other Kane County Board Committee, or subsidiary committee, in all respects, such as notice, public attendance and comment, minutes, public record keeping, and all other aspects of the Open Meetings Act.”
In an email response to a question as to whether the Open Meetings Act was violated, McMahon wrote, “I don’t have enough information about an April 27 meeting to express an opinion on Open Meetings Act compliance.”
'It's not practical to invite 532,000 people'
In his defense, Lauzen said the purpose of the task fore was to study the treasury policies as they relate to funds that may be used within Kane County under the CARES Act.
“My impression was that we can study and discuss matters carefully before we bring them to the board through the Executive Committee,” Lauzen said.
The Executive Committee is an open meeting where any recommendations the task force would make would be open for the public to hear, Lauzen said.
“I have been taught you should know what you’re talking about before you open your mouth. This is a step before that. I think we should gather our thoughts, gather our facts, then have a discussion – a productive constructive conversation,” Lauzen said.
In addition to Lauzen himself, he chose as task force members Auditor Terry Hunt as chairman, Treasurer David Rickert, Executive Finance Director Joe Onzick and Supervisor of Assessments Mark Armstrong.
“We had two meetings before we understood that to study something, everybody is invited,” Lauzen said. “To talk about sensitive financial policies in their infancy – in their inception – it’s not practical to invite 532,000 people. We were going to meet to talk about what recommendations … to try to understand what the rules are. … I concede that point. Fine. A task force, you need to invite everybody.”
But Lauzen criticized McMahon for sending the letter advising him – and all task force members and all county board members – that task force meetings need to follow the Open Meetings Act.
“We follow all the rules, all the time. McMahon doesn’t … Mr. Open Meetings Act McMahon,” Lauzen said.
In particular, Lauzen griped that McMahon did not disclose what was spent prosecuting Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke for the murder of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black teenager.
After Van Dyke’s conviction in October 2018, Lauzen gave up demanding that McMahon provide an accounting of the cost of his service as a special prosecutor.
McMahon declined to comment now, but he had said at the time that his office never tracks the staff time spent on individual cases and that counties can’t be billed for work done by special prosecutors.
“The law is very specific,” McMahon had said then. “It’s to be done without reimbursement.”