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Kicked out of a meeting

Published: Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 2:11 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 6:53 p.m. CDT

If you think we have an agenda at this newspaper, you're right. It's to promote open government. 

Years ago, government typically operated in the backrooms. Now, we have laws to prevent that, so people can watch their government in action and hold elected representatives accountable.

The other day, Tony Arduini announced that he was stepping down as the Whiteside County Board chairman after holding that position for more than 20 years.

In interviews with other board members, I found out the board's Democratic majority planned to meet in private to decide on the new chairman. I asked whether the secret session were legal. They told me yes.

I mistakenly accepted that answer. A little while later, a co-worker told me he questioned the legality. (I'm glad he prompted me; I should have been suspicious from the start.)

In an interview, a lawyer who specializes in open-government law said the board would break the law if a majority met in secret to discuss public business.

I called Steve Wilkins, a County Board member from Morrison and the county's Democratic Central Committee chairman.

He insisted the meeting, which the Democrats called a caucus, was legal. He said the Democrats would only discuss selecting the chairman. No decisions would be made.

He warned me that my open-government coverage was "making a lot of enemies."

County Administrator Joel Horn agreed the meeting was legal.

The meeting was at the carpenters union hall near Rock Falls City Hall. I showed up 25 minutes early.

Shortly after, Wilkins drove up with a couple of men, but he couldn't find his key to the building. So he thought he had to go back to Morrison, where he lives.

They left, but returned shortly after, apparently finding the key somewhere in the car. A crowd was waiting.

I asked a number of members, including Bill Milby of Rock Falls and Jim Duffy of Sterling, about the meeting's legality. They told me it was perfectly fine.

When Wilkins opened the door, I decided to go in.

I saw Glenn Truesdell of Rock Falls, a retired teacher who still subs, and asked him about the issue. He told me I was a "jackass."

He then aimed a joke at me that's too crude for a family newspaper.

I heard someone say he would call the police if I remained.

Truesdell apparently didn't think that was necessary.

"I'd be willing to throw his ass out," he said.

I decided to let myself out. After all, it was private property.

If the meeting were at a public facility, I probably would have stayed in the building, if not the meeting room itself.

Other counties don't hold such meetings, and open-government advocates told us the Democratic majority violated the law.

We filed a complaint with the state attorney general's office, which issues opinions in such matters.

Let's see how that turns out.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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