Health board's action taken after apparently illegal closed meeting

WATSEKA — The Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department's administrator is not saying whether he plans to contest action taken this week by the board of health following an apparently illegal closed meeting.

Iroquois County State's Attorney Jim Devine, who also serves as the health department's legal counsel, acknowledged after Monday's meeting that the board of health met in closed session to discuss the discipline of specific employees of the agency, including Public Health Administrator Doug Corbett, rather than "security procedures" as listed on the meeting's agenda.

"It was not only (Corbett), but other employees we were talking about," Devine said.

Devine said he did not realize the proper reason for the closed session was not cited — on either the agenda or in the verbal motion to enter into executive session — until it was pointed out to him after the meeting by the Paxton Record. As a result, Devine said, he did not advise the board of health at any point during the meeting that it needed to correct the mistake.

The Illinois Open Meetings Act requires a government body to meet in a properly noticed open session, cite the specific exemption in the law and then take a vote in order to legally close a meeting.

Following the two-hour closed meeting, the board voted unanimously to temporarily strip Corbett of his ability to hire, fire, reassign or discipline his employees. The board also voted unanimously to draft a letter to all health department employees in order to "better evaluate" their work environment, morale and goals.

Corbett declined to comment Tuesday on whether he would contest the action.

When Corbett drafted the meeting's agenda, he had listed a possible closed session to discuss "security procedures and the use of personnel and equipment to respond to an actual, a threatened, or a reasonably potential danger to the safety of employees, staff, the public, or public property."

However, Corbett advised the board during the meeting that the closed session was no longer necessary, saying the matter in question had already been addressed.

Board of health member Rod Copas then insisted the closed-door meeting occur anyway, since he wanted to discuss the item on the agenda further.

Copas then made a motion to enter into executive session. Copas did not specify the reason for the closed session in his motion.

The board first met behind closed doors with Corbett. After Corbett exited the meeting, the board then met individually with two health department nurses. Also in attendance was Devine.

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