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Clarke Cty Park Board Settles Lawsuit Over Open Meetings Violation

Clark County Park District

The Clarke County Park District Board, meeting in Marshall on May 15. (Illinois Leaks)

The head of a watchdog group says the Clark County Park District has settled the lawsuit he filed over an open meetings act violation.

Park board members tried to adjourn a meeting on May 15 without allowing public comment, turning away about 30 audience members.  

John Kraft with Illinois Leaks called Clark County Sheriff Jerry Parsley to the meeting in Marshall to place the 6-member board under citizen’s arrest.  

No one went to jail, but the matter was forwarded to Illinois State Police.

Illinois Leaks videotaped the meeting.  Member Kirk Allen said that tape disproved allegations made by the board before the sheriff.

“Apparently they tried to imply that these people were physically accosted and they held against their will, we blocked their entry for departure from the room, and he was rather shocked that some of these folks would the position that they did when the video was right there to show something contrary," he said.

At a special meeting Thursday night, board members agreed to personally pay Allen’s court costs - $415.50 - to settle his lawsuit.

At its regular meeting last week, they also approved a resolution to provide public comment time.

The board also accepted the resignation of Park District Attorney Kate Yargas, who had declined to allow public comment during the May board meeting and tried to dismiss members at the meeting last month, But Allen said Yargas resigned for family reasons.

Park Board Board Member Jeff Wallace said the park board had voted against including public comment in the May 15 agenda.  He was the lone no vote.

"At that point, my hands were kind of tied," he said.  "Hopefully, the board has learned some lessons from this, and they won't make these types of mistakes again in the future."

Park Board President Terry Stepp didn't return a call seeking comment, and Vice President Ron Stone declined comment.

Allen said the legal matter is settled, but not his reasons for wanting to address the park board in the first place.  He accuses one member of colluding with a contractor to have park survey work done at his own expense, but without board approval.

Wallace said he welcomes any future investigation from Kraft and Allen.

Patrick McCraney is an investigator with the Chicago-based Better Government Association.  He said while the citizen's arrest came as a surprise, other violations of the Open Meetings Act occur more frequently.

"Whether it's stuff like adding things to the agenda, not posting an agenda, going into closed session for reasons that aren't legit, handling things in closed session that shouldn't be handled in closed session, and public comment issues, it kind of runs the gambit of different violations that we see all over the state," he said.  "It's sad, because it's a pretty clear law, we think, and it's there for a good reason - to make sure the public has its voice heard."