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County ordinance will stifle services

By Jim Youngquist

[JUNE 14, 2003]  Every governmental body in the U.S. is an experiment in democracy. The mandate they all follow is to regulate behavior and deliver services to the public in a manner that is irrespective of persons and personalities, doing so in the least restrictive environment possible, to bring about the greatest results possible.

Everything they discuss, everything they consider is to promote the general welfare of the citizens they serve. Every once in a while there is a landmark bit of legislation or local ordinance that actually advances the cause of democracy to a new level, and all the citizens are benefited in an impartial manner. Often freedom is diverted for a while with well-meaning legislation that misses the mark.

This coming Tuesday evening the Logan County Board will revisit and vote on a county ordinance aimed at making agencies and any organizations that provide services in the county using county funds more responsible by making them operate in a manner more in line with the Illinois Open Meetings Act. This means that the public should have more information about how corporations like CIEDC and Rural Healthy Community Partnerships, Oasis and numerous other entities are operated.



This local ordinance will require that all county-supported nongovernmental agencies must provide public access and minutes of their meetings, as well as a full accounting of how they spent their county funding. On the surface this might seem like a good thing. Public funding of programs should come with responsible oversight. Public funding should mean that the public interest is being served.

The Illinois Open Meetings Act is a piece of legislation that was meant to regulate the activities of every governmental body in Illinois. This includes the legislature and the governor's office, all the way down to your local school boards. The intent was to provide public access to the business of the state and bring the public matters of government to the public. Last modified in July 2002, this act followed a nationwide landmark trend to make government more responsible and more reliable. A guide to this Illinois legislation can be found at


There are several exemptions in the Open Meetings Act to allow that the sensitive business of government might happen. General acquisitions and specific health issues are exempted from the public forum because of their sensitive nature. The act allows that governmental bodies might responsibly deal with these issues by calling a special or executive session. There is a continuing tension that the act brings to the business of government as lawmakers and even the media participate in the process of making sure that business discussed behind closed doors shouldn't instead be discussed in the open.

The entire intent of the Open Meetings Act is that our government shouldn't be a clandestine, secretive organization working against the public welfare. The mechanisms of government should hold up to public scrutiny.

The Illinois Open Meetings Act doesn't cover the affairs of 501(c) corporations and other private agencies that deliver services to the public. The act covers only governmental bodies. This has been tested in courts across Illinois (and other states as well). This is why the Logan County Board is voting on this new county ordinance. They seem to feel the need to have more control over service providers.

The way services are funded at this level is that the government anticipates a service need, and the 501(c) organization applies for granting to provide those public services, with a specific set of outcomes that it must meet. The 501(c) organization must provide proof that the money it received did in fact provide for the services it was contracted to provide. At the end of the process, the governmental body can decide if the granting mandate was fulfilled or not. If so, they can renew the granting, or if not, even pursue the provider in court for the return of the funds.


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It is almost unknown as to what the county board's motives are in this vote. Often good ordinances come about for bad reasons (almost everything is reactionary, isn't it?). The granting mechanism is an adequate control for providing services to the public, but they feel it necessary to put a further choke on service providers by making sure that the public and specifically the county board are notified of all their business, including who they talk to about what and how they spend their money. It is widely suspected that this ordinance is proposed to specifically control the efforts of Jeff Mayfield and the chamber's Economic Development Council, which has recently come under fire by the county board.


It is well known that the county board is not happy with the Economic Development Council.  Perhaps the rift came about when the city of Lincoln failed to support the county's efforts in the sales tax referendum, and then later the lines were drawn when the city allied with the EDC to develop the industrial park on the city's north end.

It seems that the county board fails to understand and appreciate the role that the EDC plays here in the county. They are here to encourage public and private parties to work together for the common good. They are the cheerleader for the growth of the private sector and the behind-the-scenes ombudsman to bring about future benefits for the taxpayers of Logan County.  They don't have any power or authority. They merely seek to attract business to Logan County and get the responsible parties talking.

The county board seems to be insinuating that the EDC is running a clandestine ops group which is running counter to the public welfare. There are certainly things concerning the acquisition of properties and the startup of businesses in Logan County that the EDC is privy to which it does not release to the public for obvious reasons. But the EDC is not clandestine -- it releases information when (not if) it is appropriate to the parties involved and makes sure that its partners, the city of Lincoln and Logan County are on board for whatever anyone is proposing. Since Mayfield joined the EDC, some things have started happening around here for a change. But, there are always some who resist change.

Recently the county board has dropped a number of bombs on the EDC to stifle their efforts, the latest of which was the formation of a six- member county committee for economic development. They were clearly pushing away from the common table and electing to do their own thing. They have also recently withheld $25,000 farm fund monies from the EDC.

 Whatever their motives, it is clear that at this point there is bad blood between the EDC and the county board!

This bad blood may result in a bad ordinance for Logan County. While it might be meant to control the activities of the EDC in the short run (the county board could certainly cut off the EDC's county funding at the end of this fiscal year and put an end to that relationship), it will have long-lasting effects on all private service providers because it does not have the same protections for the public in the ordinance that the state act provides. There are no exemptions in this act. The public must be apprised of all the activities of these service providers. 

Since there are no exemptions, this means that when Rural Healthy Partnerships provides services for AIDS and STD victims, their identities must be disclosed to the public. This means that services provided for the elderly by CIEDC must be disclosed to the county board and be available to the public, including their names and addresses. It means that the Oasis is subject to opening their books, and on and on.

I believe this is a bad ordinance crafted for bad reasons, and it will have a bad effect on every private service provider in Logan County.  If the county board has lost faith in the EDC, they should work to resolve the issues and restore the relationship with the EDC and the city of Lincoln on behalf of the public. If their trust cannot be restored, then they should cut funding to the EDC at the end of the grant.

 This proposed ordinance should make every service provider and every local governmental official cringe because it is a bad ordinance. 

 On behalf of the citizenry of Logan County, we humbly ask, ladies and gentlemen, that you vote it down on Tuesday night. Please, vote it down.

[Jim Youngquist]

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