MONTICELLO — For a second straight full county board meeting, Piatt County Board Chairman Ray Spencer was asked last week why he did not allow a recommended appointment to the mental health board to come up for a vote.
And for the second month in a row, he chose not to answer. But at least two members of the mental health committee said it was retribution for a spat that took place at a committee session early last year.
Monticello High School special education instructor Marlise Dahl — who had served on the mental health board for nine years — was one of three recommended for appointment to another term. Two of those made it to the May county board agenda, but she did not.
Such appointments to committees are under the purview of the chair, who makes appointments with the advice and consent of the county board.
Dahl spoke to the county board at its meeting on June 9, saying, “I thought you would like to meet the person you are refusing to put on the board.”
She blamed not only Spencer, but the entire board for allowing her name to be blocked from consideration.
“Quite simply, you have all failed in that responsibility to the center,” Dahl said.
County board member Todd Hendricks had brought up the non-appointment last month, asking Spencer why Dahl’s name was not brought forward. The county board chair opted not to elaborate.
Hendricks repeated his query during the public comment portion of last week’s meeting.
“I wondered why her name was left off the list of appointments, as I’m the one who asked why she wasn’t nominated at last month’s meeting, Ray, so why was her name left off the list of employments?” Hendricks said. “I still have a question why her name was not listed.”
“Any other public comment?” was Spencer’s reply.
Mental health board member Rachel LeJeune said Spencer was called out for his alleged non-participation at mental health meetings, saying his routine response when it came to the county board update portion of the agenda was, “I have nothing to report.”
LeJeune said Dahl wanted more, and said so at a meeting in February of last year. She asked how Spencer could have nothing to report from a county board that had seen its share of controversies in the months leading up to that session.
According to LeJeune and at least two others present at that session, Spencer then walked out of the mental health board meeting.
“When the news and hullabaloo was going on about the county board chair being paid to attend all of these meetings, when he said he had nothing to report, Ms. Dahl said, ‘What do you mean you have nothing to report?’” LeJeune said, adding that Dahl brought up then-criminal charges that had been filed against Spencer (which have since been dropped), along with “drama” at the county level over other issues.
Spencer is paid $400 monthly as county board chairman. He and other county board members receive $75 for full county board meetings and $60 for committee sessions. County code also allows payment for meetings with representatives and agents of other governmental agencies.
When criticism was raised in March 2020 about some of the pay claims being made, a Journal-Republican article noted Spencer had claims totaling $2,310 in January of that year, including reimbursement for 29 committee and other sessions.
LeJeune said it was in that setting that Dahl asked for more information from the county board chairman.
“She was very respectful, but as an advocate she was advocating for the center, she was advocating for those we serve, and advocating for Piatt County in general that our board chairman be transparent,” LeJeune said.
At that point, she said Spencer “stormed out of the meeting and has not returned to a meeting.”
“Frankly, I was appalled at his behavior,” mental health board member Cassandra Salvatore added.
Administrative services contract
Board members voted 6-0 to hire Bloomington-based Bellwether to provide administrative services for the county. The cost will be $60,000 annually, but the $12,000 already committed to Bellwether for budget services will now be part of that contract, which means an actual cost increase for the county of $48,000.
The administrative services agreement will also include American Rescue Plan funding work, which would have cost $20,000 if billed separately.
Ridership numbers for Piatt County Transportation continue to creep up. On the day of the county board meeting, PIATTRAN Director Jamie Trybom said the service was giving 200 rides the day of the meeting, a high-water mark since the pandemic began.
She said average ridership was about 320 per day prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns.
Nursing home life safety work
Piatt County Nursing Home Director Scott Porter said life safety work was being planned at the county-owned facility, including a new railing for an outdoors ramp and a fence around the memory care unit.
Phase 3 of internal room and hallway renovations is also set to resume, but like the railing and fence is being held up by supply chain issues.
“All of these projects have been delayed by supply issues. The fence alone will take about 13 weeks to get the material in, which was shocking to us,” Porter said.
Porter added the nursing home population is back to 80 residents for the first time in more than a year. Maple Point Supportive Living is also full with a waiting list.
In other action, the board:
— Approved a resolution setting the salary for the county engineer, Eric Seibring. He said the resolution is needed so motor fuel tax funds can be used for the salary. He said it results in no county levy funds being used for that purpose.
“This is a pretty good deal because it allows all of my expenses to come from motor fuel tax and not local tax dollars,” Seibring said.
— Heard from Piatt County Workforce Case Manager Cassandra Dunham that Willow Tree Resale Shop has signed on for training services, allowing those 14 to 24 years old to be trained and work at the shop.
— Approved the yearly contract with GIS mapping services, with a cost similar to last year.
— Approved putting the county audit out to bids.
— Approved the appointments of Bruce Manuel, Edward Lynch and Ken Yeakley to the Piatt County Forest Preserve Board, and Chris Dick to the Deland Fire Protection District Board.