James E. Donaldson

James E. Donaldson

Official misconduct and theft charges against a former Piatt County emergency management agency director have been dropped.

James E. Donaldson, 61, of Monticello, had been accused of the crimes – which included allegations he used grant money to reimburse his salary while he was the county’s appointed EMA director.

A trial was scheduled to begin in January.

Piatt County State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades said she is still convinced there was wrongdoing, but felt it would be difficult to prove in court, claiming grant dollars are difficult to track due to them being lumped together in one general category in the county books.

Several grants are used to fund the Piatt County EMA.

The state’s motion to dismiss filed on Nov. 27 stated that, “the Piatt County, IL finance department does not, to the best of our information and belief, keep any separate records for grant funds that are for salary reimbursement, meaning there is no way to isolate grant funds received from revenue deposited in the general corporate fund.”

Rhoades added that the decision to drop the case was also influenced by auditor findings covering the past several years, and she was told there is only one single point of contact between Piatt County and the auditor.

The difficulties my office would have in accessing financial information needed to prove the Donaldson case at trial also became apparent more recently. During the last week of October it became apparent that the state’s attorney’s office did not have complete access to auditor finance records that could be needed to prove the case,” said Rhoades.

An attorney for Donaldson said his client is relieved.

The case has weighed heavily on James and his family, and James is happy that justice prevailed with the dismissal of all charges against him,” said Mark D. Johnson, Donaldson’s attorney and a partner in the Bloomington-based Johnson Law Group. “Our thanks to State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades and Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Dobson for making the right decision in this matter.

Our team has been working diligently to obtain a dismissal of all charges against James and after multiple court appearances and conferences we are satisfied that the State has agreed to comply with our request to dismiss all charges against James.”

The case was officially dropped when Judge Jeremy Richey accepted the request to dismiss charges in Piatt County court on Monday.

Donaldson had been Piatt County’s emergency management chief for several years prior to resigning in May of 2018. The charges against him were filed on April 30 of this year.

The county emergency management agency was a focus of discussion during the county’s budget talks for 2019-20, including a proposed increase to reflect a more full-time agency and to get ready for the state recertification process in 2020. Deficiencies of the past were cited by state’s attorney officials as reasons the increases would be justified. The county eventually trimmed that request back to current year figures when it approved the 2019-20 budget last week.