Law library changes questioned

The Piatt County Board approved a balance budget for the fiscal year beginning December 1, 2012 at their November meeting.  The budget, which totals $5,904,220, was approved with no anticipated tax increase and is less than the $6,100,727 budget passed the previous year. 

Although most departments requested small increases primarily for salaries, significant cuts were made to the court budget.  In 2012 the court was allocated $122,700 but the request this year was only $81,700.  As part of the departmental budget, the law library funds were cut from $31,000 in 2012 to $19,000 in 2013. 

This cut has at least one Piatt County attorney upset. 

 Steve Thomas of Monticello maintains that current budgetary cuts will cause the library “to be of little use at all.”  Thomas, who has practiced law in the county for 13 years, said he has relied on the library, particularly the online resource Westlaw, to obtain information.  According to Thomas, the late Judge Shonkwiler shifted the library from research books and documents to the computerized subscription .  Thomas addressed the county board at their November meeting claiming that Judge Dan L. Flannell was planning on doing away with the Westlaw subscription.

County board members explained that the board has the ability to cut a departmental budget overall but had no authority when it came to how the funds were allocated within a department.  That is the responsibility of the department head. 

Board member Randy Keith further explained that when a department head comes to the board with a budget request for less than the previous year, “we’re not going to increase funding.”

The county is required to maintain a law library so that those unable to afford an attorney may adequately represent themselves.  According to State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades the county is only required to supply basic law books. 

“It’s not the county’s obligation to provide a law library for practicing lawyers, but practicing lawyers may use the library that is available.”  Rhoades further commented she believes Piatt County is the only county in its judicial circuit providing public access to online legal research tools.

 In a letter to each board member Thomas requested the opportunity to address the board prior to the final budget approval.  This meeting did not take place.

Online agendas

The county board is taking steps towards posting their agendas and meeting minutes on the county website.  Monticello resident Maureen Holtz addressed the board on more than one occasion inquiring when the board would begin to post meeting information on the Internet.  At the most recent meeting she also asked if any funds were allocated in the new budget.

According to County Clerk Colleen Kidd, Piatt County is not obligated to post agendas and minutes on the web because the county does not employ an IT person. 

After a survey of similar sized counties in Illinois, Holtz discovered that nearly all make such information available on their websites.  Board members assured Holtz at the November meeting that they wanted to move toward digitizing the records but according to member Richard Wilkin, “things are done by committee which is why this is taking a little more time.”

Randy Keith commented that no funds were allocated toward this goal but stated the county needed to “pick up the pace.”  Keith was appointed by Chairman John Lyons to look into the cost of adding a link to the website so documents could be uploaded.

 Board members continue to hear from residents regarding the time of county board meetings.  Recently citizens needing to address the board have requested that meetings be held in the evenings when it would be more convenient for those that work.

Meeting times
Although a motion to the change the board meeting time was voted down last year the board reluctantly scheduled an upcoming special meeting in December at 6:30 p.m.  Board officials said the special meeting will require that the courthouse be opened after hours and may require overtime pay due to staff required.  

In other news, 74.26 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the recent election.  The number was down from 76 percent in the 2008 presidential election.  Total election claims for the county totaled $12,781.29.

The County Board also approved several appointments.  Pam Houser was named to the Piatt County Nursing Home Foundation Board while Jerry Edwards and Loyd Wax were appointed to the Zoning Board; Edwards representing Blue Ridge Township and Wax Sangamon Township.

The next meeting of the Piatt County Board is 9:00 a.m. December 12, 2012 in Room 104 of the Courthouse.

 

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