Shields Township officials disagree during Attorney General’s Office investigation; “The argument … is sometimes quite unbearable”
The Illinois Attorney General’s office is investigating allegations that Shields Township violated the state’s open meeting law in a single element of ongoing tension between elected officials there that saw assessor Scott Helton resign and two directors threaten to quit the board amid disputes with supervisor Heather Kerr.
In an April 12 letter to Kerr, Assistant Attorney General Jane Sternecky wrote that the office had been made aware of a potential violation of the Open Meetings Act on March 31 from a person whose name has been disclosed. redacted from the letter, and the attorney general’s office believes further action is necessary. guaranteed.
“(The individual) alleges that the board violated the OMA by voting on two items that were not on the agenda for the rescheduled regular meeting of March 31, 2022. Specifically, she states that a vote was taken regarding (1) the installation of a serving administrator to serve as a liaison, and (2) the resignation or removal of the township’s legal counsel and the addition of a new attorney. According to (the individual), neither item was on the agenda for the meeting,” the letter read.
On April 19, Kerr replied to Sternecky that she was not present for the March 31 meeting, but she told administrator Jeff Urso that the board could not make a final decision on the items not listed. agenda, but she thought the council had done just that. .
Kerr added in his letter that the board does not have the authority to dismiss the attorney without the supervisor’s approval.
Attorney General‘s Office spokeswoman Annie Thompson said the case is still under investigation.
“While we strive to work effectively on the issue, we also try to be as thorough as possible and our priority is to ensure that public bodies understand their responsibilities under transparency rules,” Thompson said.
The Township of Shields provides government services to residents of unincorporated areas from Route 60 to Lake Forest to the south, North Chicago to the north, and Knollwood. In December 2021, trustees unanimously approved a property tax of just over $1.3 million.
The investigation by the attorney general‘s office is part of an ongoing public tussle between Kerr and some of the other lawmakers, with all parties citing communication problems within the shadowy government unit.
Kerr has clashed publicly with two directors and Helton in recent weeks, with Helton stepping down last month. Helton resigned in May, making his intentions known at a board meeting in April.
“Having attended almost every township meeting, it’s very evident that this idea of the council working as a collaborative body isn’t happening,” Helton said. “The Township Supervisor, in my view, has not provided the leadership necessary to allow council to bring forward its ideas and concerns, and to deliver the quality of service and fiscal accountability that we promised the constituents that we would provide.”
He did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Also at the April meeting, Urso and fellow administrator Kathryn Walker-Eich said they also intended to step down unless Kerr left. However, in May they said they would stay on the board, but said their differences with Kerr persisted.
“There were a lot of people asking me not to quit, and now I want to stay and try to fix the situation,” Urso said in an interview. “Fixing everything is possible, and in the end, I try to find an amicable solution.”
Urso said he had no plans to meet with Kerr to ease the tension.
“Anything I have to stay I want to say in public to be transparent,” he said.
Walker-Eich said she decided to stay and fight back after being the subject of what she says was a false allegation of harassment mentioned by Kerr in an April statement.
“I just decided I can’t quit and I have to protect my name now,” Walker-Eich said in May. “I had time to think about it and decided that I had to protect my name and the taxpayers of Shields Township needed me. Now more than ever, I feel like I have to stay.
In an interview, Kerr said she was open to meeting with the directors, but blamed them for a lack of communication.
“Taxpayers deserve better than this type of behavior,” she said. “If you are going to quit, do it and please tell me why you are going to do it. I was never told where their displeasure came from.
“Moving forward in the interests of taxpayers, I would certainly encourage administrators to contact me and answer questions,” Kerr said.
Township clerk Tammy Bryan said: ‘I don’t like what’s going on, but my duty as clerk is to take minutes and provide correspondence with council, and I feel I I can still do my homework even though the argument between the board and the supervisor is quite unbearable sometimes.
Kerr secured the backing of trustee David Weil.
“My experience with Supervisor Kerr has been very positive,” he said in April.
Administrator Brady Andersen expressed concern over the situation, but said he would not resign.