Piatt County board

Ray Spencer (third from the right) presides over the Feb. 12 county board meeting in the Piatt County Courthouse.

For the first time since a grand jury indicted Piatt County Board Chairman Ray Spencer on forgery and official misconduct charges on Jan. 13, the idea of removing him as chair has come up at a public board session.

Board member Randy Shumard did not officially call for Spencer’s removal at the Feb. 12 board session, but did comment, “it’s getting to one of those points where I think the lack of leadership has got to get changed, and get changed soon.”

Speaking during the committee report portion near the end of the meeting, he claimed there were issues with county board correspondence being copied to the state’s attorney’s office, something he claimed had been an issue for about six months.

“I think we need to start looking into some of our legalities and things, and the way they are being operated, and right now at this point we have no room for any more problems with the county board,” said Shumard.

His comments came after Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Dobson clarified during public comment that a board chairman can be removed by the vote of five of the six board members at a special meeting. The chair would still be an elected county board member. Two county board representatives can call a special board session.

“Do not think, county board members, that you do not have the authority to remove a chairperson,” said Dobson. “The law indicates you could have a special meeting, five out of six voting in favor of removing a person from chair status puts the chair as the status of a county board member.”

She said her comments came in part due to inquiries via social media.

“There have been so many comments on Facebook that demand for, or inquire as to what can be done to have the chairman removed,” Dobson said after the county board meeting. “There have also been several comments made to me personally about why the board won’t move to act, if the chairman has not opted to resign.”

Dobson added that, while the board cannot currently remove an elected member from office, it could amend its bylaws to include a provision for administrative leave, or hold its own version of a trial under Roberts Rules of Order.

As for the “trial process,” she added that, “it is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard and it is held before the board.”

One of the charges against Spencer revolves around him reportedly attempting to hire an outside attorney without the permission of State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades, who is by law the chief legal counsel for the county. It could have stemmed from an apparent rift between Spencer and the state’s attorney’s office that appeared through the contentious budget process last October and November.

Dobson said it has led to little communication between the office and the chairman, but that the state’s attorney’s office “has continued to provide advice and continued to solicit contact and input on legal issues. The fact that there is a communication barrier has nothing to do with this office.”

Spencer did not comment on the issue at the county board meeting, and declined to comment after it.

Public comment placement

The allowing of public comment earlier in meetings was mentioned by board member Dale Lattz. Public speakers have asked to be able to address the board before issues are considered during the action item portion of the agenda.

An example of that came last week when the board considered a resolution to declare Piatt County a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.” Lattz pointed out there were several in the audience who wished to speak on the issue before a vote was taken.

“This is a good example of the idea of having comments before you get into business,” said Lattz.

“This (resolution) says we’re talking about the people of Piatt County. I think there are people on both sides that want to discuss this, and we’re voting on something before we get that input,” he added.

The current agenda order is spelled out in the county board bylaws, but Dobson said the chairman and/or the county board has the flexibility to change it meeting by meeting.

Board members voted down the resolution, but then left a crack open for future consideration by tabling it.