ROCK FALLS – Whiteside County Board member Glenn Truesdell, D-Rock Falls, felt strongly last November that the board’s Democratic majority had the right to meet in an unannounced, private meeting.
On Nov. 28, he made his views known to a Sauk Valley Media reporter who tried to get into such a meeting.
The reporter said the state’s open meetings law barred such a gathering. Truesdell and his colleagues disagreed.
The blunt-spoken Truesdell, a retired Rock Falls High teacher, called the reporter a “jackass.”
“I’d be willing to throw his ass out,” he said.
The reporter left before that could happen.
Last week, the attorney general’s office found that the majority had violated the Open Meetings Act by holding that meeting.
In a brief interview Monday, Truesdell no longer was vocal about the issue.
“I have no view on it,” he said.
At the November meeting, 16 of the board’s 27 members were believed to have attended to discuss the selection of the board’s chairman and vice chairman. They did so to prepare for the board’s meeting the next week.
Sauk Valley Media filed a complaint with the attorney general.
Board members said their gathering was actually a meeting of the Whiteside County Democratic Central Committee, which is exempt from state law.
In a letter released Friday, Assistant Attorney General Tola Sobitan disagreed.
“Selection of a chairman and vice chairman of the County Board is clearly public business of the board, ...” she wrote.
As such, Sobitan said, the board violated the law.
“There is, however, no effective remedial action that the County Board can take at this time to redress the violation,” she wrote.
But she cautioned the board to stay in strict compliance with the Open Meetings Act.
For years, the County Board’s majority has held such private meetings before the first sessions of their new terms.
The attorney general’s opinion wasn’t binding, but County Administrator Joel Horn said he believes the majority has no intention of having a private meeting again.
“[Chairman Jim] Duffy told me that they won’t do that in the future,” Horn said.
No one answered Duffy’s phone Monday.
The week after the private meeting, the board unanimously – Republicans included – elected Duffy, D-Sterling, as chairman and Tony Arduini, D-Rock Falls, as vice chairman. Duffy succeeded Arduini, who stepped down after more than two decades at the helm.
Another member, Sue Britt, D-Morrison, said Monday that she had believed that the Open Meetings Act didn’t cover the meeting in question because it was a party function.
“Since the [AG’s] opinion does say that it is covered, I’m all for it,” she said. “We’ll follow the rules.”
Whiteside County State’s Attorney Trish Joyce, a Democrat who took office just days after the private meeting, defended the board in the county’s official response to Sauk Valley Media’s complaint.
“Names of persons who were interested in being supported by the Democratic Central Committee for County Board chairman and vice chairman were solicited and a discussion was held as to whom the committee would like to support for these positions. No notes were made or votes taken,” she wrote. “There was a determination of the candidates the Democratic Central Committee would support for these positions.”
On Open Meetings Act issues, Joyce has contradictory duties: She represents the board on legal matters, but also has authority to enforce the Open Meetings Act.
Joyce didn’t return messages for comment on Monday about how she viewed her role in this situation.