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State's Attorney orders Open Meetings, FOIA compliance for Sandwich officials

SANDWICH – The DeKalb County State's Attorney has requested immediate action to be taken by the Sandwich mayor to correct violations of the Illinois Open Meetings and the Freedom of Information acts.

DeKalb County State's Attorney Rick Amato said in a May 7 letter to Sandwich Mayor Rick Olson that the city's tourism committee has not been complying with Open Meetings Act, or OMA, when it should as a listed committee of the city council.

The letter comes after a complaint was filed about agendas for the city's tourism committee meetings not being posted on the city's website, which falls under OMA. The letter also said city officials said in a written response to the complaintant that no agendas have been posted between Jan. 1, 2017 and April 2, 2019 – which falls under the state's Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.

"This must be remedied," Amato said in the letter.

Amato said in the letter that none of the city council members are listed as members of the tourism committee, which is another FOIA violation. He also said in the letter the office obtained no OMA training completion certificates whatsoever for Aldermen Richard Robinson, Les Redden, Cara Killey, Pete Dell and William McMahon, and no certificates from 2019 from other aldermen and staff.

The City of Sandwich has two weeks to comply with the office's outlined compliance plan and requested the mayor to sign a consent decree for compliance, Amato said in the letter. He also said the office is seeking verification for OMA training completed by city officials and staff this year and is requesting proof that the committee has not taken final actions on contracts or expenditures during the meetings in question.

DeKalb County Assistant State's Attorney David Berault said the goal is always to educate public officials, since there is usually no ill intent when issues of compliance happen. But, he said, the matter could go to court if the city chooses to not comply with Amato's recommendations.

“I’m really hoping that won’t be the case," Berault said. "These are simple problems to fix.”

Amato said in the letter the allegations might be enough to warrant usage of the courts, but the office is hoping to avoid more delays and wasting public money.

"We are looking at the situation as the Court would, while seeking to achieve orderly administration and results in the public's best interest," Amato said in the letter.

Amato said on Friday, May 10 the agendas and minutes in question do not exist and his recommendations per his May 7 letter apply to future agendas and minutes for the tourism committee. He declined additional comment, citing the possibility of the matter ending up in court.

Only one tourism committee agenda for an April 17 meeting was posted on the city's website as of Friday, May 10. Sandwich City Clerk Denise Ii said in a Friday, May 10 email that another web address, – where agendas or meetings for the committee would be posted – did not have any agendas or minutes posted there currently.

Olson said the committee was created a couple of years ago as a more informal group of community members and city officials to openly discuss different tourism ideas for the city, including food trucks, downtown events and the annual Plano-Sandwich Bologna Days. He said the committee has been painted as a secret one when it wasn't meant to be so.

Olson said he acknowledges that not posting agendas and minutes for the city committee violates OMA rules and that the city needs to adhere to protocol. He said he takes full responsibility as mayor to address the issues outlined by Amato.

"We will move forward in a more organized effort," Olson said.

This is the second time the state's attorney's office has cited the City of Sandwich for OMA violations. According to a Dec. 21, 2018 letter from Amato, he cited the city's finance committee for OMA violations regarding microphone use or lack thereof during meetings while also addressing other meeting decorum concerns not covered under OMA, like how a meeting is run or who should run the meeting.

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