Saturday, June 10, 2017

Attorney General to Investigate IL Fire Chief's Termination

Attorney General to Investigate IL Fire Chief's Termination

Susan Vela On Jun 10, 2017
Source: McClatchy

chief brad bartell termination 593bfdea51e7e

The public attended the Boone County District 2 Fire Department board meeting where the chief was terminated.

Photo credit: Courtesy of WIFR

June 09--BELVIDERE -- The Illinois Attorney General is investigating whether the Boone County Fire Protection District 2 board violated the Open Meetings Act when it terminated Brad Bartell as chief.

The district's firefighters association requested the investigation.

"Trustees willingly and deliberately violated the OMA," the association's letter to the Illinois Attorney General's Office reads. "The emails we received via FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) were first sent to the fire district's attorney for screening prior to being sent to us.

"This filtered out many critical documents that are pertinent to your investigation. The documents we did receive however show a pattern of discussion and decisions being made behind the scenes."

Annie Thompson, the Attorney General's press secretary, said the state will take up an open meetings and FOIA investigation as it does with all requests.

The fire district's firefighters association requested the state's review because members say trustees should not have fired Bartell and haven't been transparent about why they let him go. When the association asked for a rationale, the trustees provided a list of concerns about Bartell that included allegations of mismanagement, missing equipment and failure to follow proper protocols.

Association members have been appearing at trustees' meetings to protest Bartell's firing and to express solidarity with their former chief.

Bartell, who serves as the Boone County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator, has said the trustees began asking him to leave closed sessions he normally would sit in on.

"With Brad, it was a family around here," volunteer firefighter Josh Dummer said Monday as the trustees discussed personnel matters in closed session. "If they're not going to respect him, why are they going to care about us?"

They've also let trustees Jack Ryan, Kevin Stark and Jim Marrs know they are circulating petitions aimed at putting a referendum question before voters asking whether trustees should be elected. Right now, the Boone County Board chairman appoints them.

The trustees and Bartell's replacement, Chief Bob Koehn, have declined to comment about Bartell's termination.

The fire district covers about 150 square miles, including the unincorporated communities of Irene, Herbert and Garden Prairie.

Bartell also declined to comment about the attorney general's review. He was with the fire district for 26 years -- five of them as chief -- when he was let go after an April 3 meeting.

Illinois' Open Meetings Act requires that public bodies cite why they're going behind closed doors. They're allowed to discuss personnel matters during these closed sessions. Fire district trustees didn't give a reason until the April 3 session.

Marrs then said the closed session was for "the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employees of the public body, including hearing testimony on a complaint lodged against an employee."

Springfield attorney Donald Craven, who specializes in First Amendment issues, noted that Bartell was not a member of the board, and that the trustees had every right to talk about his leadership without him being there.

"To properly go into closed session, there has to be a motion to go into closed session," he said. "That motion has to recite what exemption under the act they're relying on and there has to be a roll call vote on that motion.

"Then when all of that happens, they can go into closed session ...there has to be a verbatim recording of that closed session, which is usually just an audiotape."

The Illinois Attorney General public access counselor may review the audiotape, he said.

Susan Vela: 815-987-1392;; @susanvela

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