State's attorney letter provides details of closed meeting

SPRINGFIELD — A "concerned employee" of the Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department provided "a multitude of information" about Administrator Doug Corbett's "management performance" during a closed meeting that resulted in the board of health taking disciplinary action against him, the agency's attorney wrote in a letter to the Illinois attorney general's office.

Iroquois County State's Attorney Jim Devine also acknowledges in the letter that the board failed to record the entire closed session.

Devine, who also serves as the health department's legal counsel, provided the letter to the Public Access Bureau of the attorney general's office last week. It was obtained by the Paxton Record on Monday.

The letter was in response to a complaint the Paxton newspaper filed earlier this month, claiming the board of health discussed matters in closed session on May 20 that were unrelated to the Open Meetings Act exemption that was cited on the meeting's agenda and in the verbal motion to enter the closed session.

In his letter, Devine said the board cited an exemption that allows closed sessions 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, students, staff, the public, or public property."

Devine noted that Corbett wrote the agenda for the meeting. After the board entered executive session, Devine said, Corbett "spoke to the board about his concerns of an employee who had health issues that may have impacted employee and public safety.

"Upon completion of Mr. Corbett's comments in executive session, the affected employee presented testimony to the board," Devine said. "During the course of this employee's testimony to the board, which was in response to Mr. Corbett's concerns, a multitude of information about Mr. Corbett's management performance was addressed to the board by the concerned employee."

A second employee was then asked to testify to the board, Devine said.

Devine acknowledged that "the nature of the additional information (provided) by the (first) employee" was related to a different Open Meetings Act exemption than the board had cited. Devine said the discussion fell under an exemption that allows closed-session discussions about "the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employees."

Devine said the board did not come out of executive session during the course of both employees' testimony — and call a new closed session to discuss the discipline of employees — because "the ebb and flow of the employee's response to Mr. Corbett's initial concerns for entering executive session morphed into a different OMA exception."

Devine added: "There was no natural boundary that allowed the executive session to stop and announce to the public that a new exception for executive session existed."

Devine noted that "there was an awareness by the board of the boundaries of executive session." He said that "at one point during executive session, a board member's comments went beyond the purpose of the executive session," and "board members recognized this as an issue and re-directed the discussion back to the purpose of the executive session."

After reopening the meeting to the public, the board voted unanimously to temporarily suspend Corbett's authority 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.

The Paxton Record, in its request for review, claimed the action taken was not listed on the meeting's agenda as required. Devine provided the meeting's agenda for the attorney general's office to review.

Devine also provided a cassette tape of the closed session as requested by the attorney general's office.

However, Devine said, the tape does not contain "the entire conversation of the session."

"The board and I were unaware that the tape had stopped during the session," Devine said. "Once we were aware of the stoppage, the tape was turned over and recording recommenced."

The Paxton Record continues to seek the release of the audio tape. The newspaper filed a separate "request for review" earlier this month, alleging the health department improperly denied a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the tape's release. The Paxton Record contends the tape should be released because the meeting was improperly closed.

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