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What was closed is now open in Lee County

Board approves releasing minutes of private meetings

DIXON – Some of the discussions in Lee County’s closed sessions over the past year are becoming public.

The Lee County Board is joining a few entities, including Dixon and Whiteside County, that are making public the minutes from closed-door meetings. Others keep their closed minutes secret as a rule.

Over the past week, the Lee County Board’s executive, finance and properties committees voted to release minutes from some of their closed sessions.

Under Illinois law, public bodies are supposed to review those minutes at least twice a year to determine whether the need for confidentiality still exists.

In a March 14 meeting, the executive committee discussed the need for an animal control facility. The board’s vice chairman, John Nicholson, R-Franklin Grove, presented a summary of a plan to possibly buy land near the county’s transit building in the Dixon industrial park.

Board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, said the summary didn’t present a complete picture because it was missing information about the architect and contractors, according to the minutes.

A few months later, a board majority rejected Nicholson’s proposal for the animal control facility near the transit center.

Under the Open Meetings Act, the committee was allowed to discuss the purchase of real estate behind closed doors.

In an April 9 meeting, members of the properties committee discussed whether animal control employee Teri Zinke should become the department head. According to the minutes, she stated that she did not want a pay raise, just the ability to have personnel become more accountable.

Eight days later, the full board voted to promote Zinke to animal control supervisor. Despite her statement that she didn’t want a pay raise, the County Board on Tuesday granted her a $2,000-a-year stipend because she is the supervisor. That was because she was making less than a subordinate, Ketchum said.

The committee members addressed Zinke’s status behind closed doors because such topics fall under the Open Meetings Act exemption for discussions of specific employees.

On May 16, the finance committee discussed in secret how to invest the county’s cash reserves. The official reason for closing the doors was “investment discussion,” though no such exemption is listed under the Open Meetings Act.

At the County Board’s meeting Tuesday, members voted to release minutes from a number of closed sessions of the full board.

Ketchum said the county clerk’s office would have to put the minutes together before their release.

In other Lee County news

Also during Tuesday's meeting of the Lee County Board:

• County Board member Wes Morrissey, D-Amboy, proposed the formation of a committee to consider the building of a new jail, which the Sheriff's Department says the county needs. 

Morrissey made his suggestion during last week's meeting of the county's finance committee.

Other members said they would discuss Morrissey's proposal at a meeting next month.

• The city of Rochelle recently asked area businesses to route their trucks around the small Lee County village of Steward by using the Interstate 88 interchange at state Route 251, an official informed Lee County officials last week. This was done at the request of Steward officials.

• The county has received more than 50 applications for a second information technology position, board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, said. 

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