The City of Bloomington’s attorney asked prosecutors to give aldermen a closed-door “high-level briefing” on the Coliseum fraud case, only to be denied by the McLean County state’s attorney because such a meeting might violate the state’s Open Meetings law, GLT has learned.
The request came in an email Sept. 28 from Bloomington attorney Jeff Jurgens to McLean County First State’s Attorney Adam Ghrist, who is prosecuting the Coliseum case. That was just three days after the Coliseum indictments were unsealed, charging five former managers of the city-owned arena with 111 counts of fraud, theft, and money laundering.
“I'm hoping to use this as yet another opportunity to discuss the importance of saying as minimal as possible regarding the charges,” Jurgens wrote in an email obtained by GLT through a Freedom of Information Act request. In the email Jurgens also referenced speaking to “Dan” about appearing at the closed session. It’s unclear who that is, although court documents show one of the lead Illinois State Police investigators working the Coliseum case is Dan Rossiter.
Ghrist forwarded the email to McLean County State’s Attorney Jason Chambers, who replied to Jurgens. Chambers declined to speak at a closed session but offered to speak to aldermen individually.
“I recognize that Bloomington is a victim in this case and, as with any other case, we are willing to sit down and discuss aspects of it as we would with any other victim,” Chambers wrote. “However, I am not going to be comfortable using a closed session to discuss this with the council.”
Jurgens pushed back, suggesting such a closed session would be appropriate because it involved “pending or probable litigation against, affecting or on behalf of” the city. That’s one of the reasons why a public body can close a meeting, according to the state’s Open Meetings Act (OMA). That law requires that meetings of public bodies be open to the public except in certain specific, limited situations.
Chambers replied: “I think interpreting this case as pending litigation, in which the City is not even a named party, warranting a closed session would be an overly broad use.”
Jurgens again pushed for the meeting, writing Sept. 29, “I have no problem not pushing it, but you don't think the criminal cases are considered litigation that affect the City?”
That legal argument is a “stretch,” said Don Craven, a Springfield attorney who specializes in media and government law, including the Open Meetings Act.
“There’s no reason for the city council to talk to the state’s attorney in a closed session about that,” Craven said. “There’s nothing the city can do in that litigation. They’re not a party to that litigation. They’re not going to be affected by the outcome of the litigation. The people charged are gonna be found guilty or innocent, and that has no legal ramifications for the city.”
Through a city spokesperson, Jurgens declined to comment to GLT. The city referred to an October statement about not commenting publicly about the Coliseum case, citing the pending charges. Chambers also declined comment.
It appears the meeting never happened, according to the emails obtained by GLT. Mayor Tari Renner said Tuesday that prosecutors never briefed the council—as a group or individually—and neither did State Police. State Police declined to comment Monday.
It’s unclear who, if anyone, asked Jurgens to pursue the closed session. Renner said it wasn’t him or any alderman.
'Other OMA Issues'
“We certainly don't need any other OMA issues, so I am fine to scrap the idea,” Jurgens wrote to Chambers.
That may be a reference to another Open Meetings Act disagreement between the City of Bloomington and the McLean County state’s attorney’s office.
In that case, Chambers asked the Illinois attorney general’s office to review the Bloomington City Council’s Feb. 20 closed session when aldermen discussed the Metro Zone tax-sharing agreement with the Town of Normal. The next day, Bloomington officials said they wanted to terminate the deal—a controversial decision that’s chilled the relationship between the Twin Cities.
Bloomington officials argued it was a legal use of closed session because the Metro Zone termination involved “probable litigation,” meaning the possibility that the Town of Normal would sue the city.
The Illinois attorney general’s office disagreed, issuing a binding opinion—prompted by Chambers’ request—stating that Bloomington had violated the Open Meetings Act. The city was directed June 6 to make publicly available the closed session verbatim recording of the Feb. 20 meeting.
The city contested that binding opinion by filing suit July 10 in Sangamon County court against Chambers and the Illinois attorney general. The city reiterated its argument that “litigation was probably and remains probable.” Disclosing what was discussed Feb. 20 will “provide the potentially opposing party improper insight into (Bloomington’s) litigation strategy, goals, strengths, and possible weaknesses.” Bloomington calls it a potentially “high-dollar case.”
“The Town (of Normal) currently is not pursuing any litigation against the City of Bloomington over the Metro Zone matter,” Normal Mayor Chris Koos said Tuesday.
That lawsuit is still pending. The Feb. 20 meeting recording has still not been released.
The Coliseum criminal cases remain pending. All five defendants have pleaded not guilty.
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