Can we continue to trust the leadership of the Adams County Board?

County Board 4

Bret Austin and Kent Snider at the Monday, August 1 meeting of the executive committee of the Adams County Board — Photo by David Adam

Members of the Adams County Board discussed their political futures behind closed doors during a closed session of their May 10 meeting. Bret Austin, Adams County Board vice chairman and Finance Committee chairman, assured his fellow board members these discussions would remain private, despite the fact they were being recorded.

These board members must be too young to remember Watergate. 

Perhaps they will learn not to take such things at face value in the future and ask for more and clearer data before making important decisions.

The raises aren’t the issue.

The way the Adams County Board conducts business in private is.

The lack of transparency from the County Board leadership is consistent. The Adams County Board tried to deny the Quincy Herald-Whig a copy of the county budget while it was being put together for the 2021 fiscal year.

The November 2020 article by Drew Zimmerman noted a Nov. 10 request by The Herald-Whig to Adams County Clerk and Recorder Ryan Niekamp to view the fiscal 2021 budget was referred to Snider, who denied the request but later provided the budget minutes before the Nov. 10 county board meeting began.

Adams County State’s Attorney Gary Farha told Zimmerman the issue of a member of the public being unable to view the budget had never been brought up in his four years as state’s attorney, so he wasn’t familiar with the statute. 

However, he said the situation provided a lesson for the county about transparency.

“Clearly, we were wrong,” Farha told Zimmerman.

Snider said he had served on the finance committee for 10 of the 18 years he has been on the County Board, and he has never been asked for the budget.

“If it’s the rule, we have to figure out how to deal with it,” Snider said.

Farha told Zimmerman the budget would be made available to the public online prior to a vote, which Snider said could easily be done. Farha said Niekamp is responsible for his own office, and a request to view the budget shouldn’t have to go through the Adams County Board.

“Over the course of the next month, we’ll develop some reminders and policies to make certain it doesn’t happen again,” Farha said at the time.

Lesson not learned?

Austin has complained about his treatment from the media on social media. He has attempted to gaslight the messenger when the message is factual, and he uses strawman arguments to support his actions. He has referred to Muddy River News as “The TMZ of Quincy” and says it practices “gotcha journalism.” He has accused the publisher of being an acolyte to the Quincy Tea Party.

I guess The Quincy Herald-Whig was doing Tea Party bidding as well back in November of 2020.

Two County Board members said when this reporter merely asked for the specific reason the board was going into executive session, which he is legally obligated to do and failed to do so during that May meeting, Snider rolled his eyes (behind my back).

President Richard Nixon called reporters “bastards” back in the day.

As a business owner and entrepreneur, Austin has done many good things to better life in Quincy. Some of those actions, however, seem to have been self-serving for him professional and personally.

What a private individual does to further his business is his business, as long it doesn’t break the law or involve the public sector. Austin’s business was built on public/private funding with numerous loans that came through the City of Quincy. He still has several of those loans out, and they are in good standing with the city.

However, Austin’s actions as a member of the Adams County Board should not be tolerated. His disdain for much of the public is clearly noted throughout the closed session meetings.

Other questionable actions can be looked into as to how the Adams County Board, specifically the Finance Committee and Executive Committee, does business — ranging from no-bid contracts, improperly closing meetings and excluding fellow County Board members from discussions.

More closed meetings that do not fall under the Illinois Open Meetings Act also should be questioned.

Muddy River News has that documentation as well. This has all taken place since Farha said policies and procedures would be put into place in November 2020. Muddy River News started April 30, 2021.

Farha was in the room for both of the closed session meetings relevant to this editorial. 

Shortly after Muddy River News posted a July 14 story about the attorney general’s request for a copy of closed session minutes from the May 10 meeting, Austin told Steve McQueen on Facebook that the County Board voted 16-1 for the raises, which he claimed justified his actions. (Of course, he left out his closed session conduct during which he twisted arms and shamed Ryan Hinkamper (R-District 2) for wanting to be the lone “no” vote.)

McQueen, who is, yes, a leader of the Quincy Tea Party soon will join Austin on the Adams County Board, representing District 4 along with Travis Cooley and Snider. McQueen and Austin also are members of the Adams County Republican Central Committee.

Assistant State’s Attorney Josh Jones turned the recordings over to Barney Bier, a former Adams County state’s attorney and former County Board member, after Bier wrote a letter to the Illinois Attorney General’s office seeking the recordings of the meetings and the AG’s office suggested the County should do so.

Josh Jones, Barney Bier and Kwame Raoul. Yes, all noted right-wingers (no they’re not).

Austin actually showed a glimmer of remorse in a July 27 reply to McQueen, who sent an email out to many of his fellow Adams County Republican Precinct Committee members after his faction had lost the votes to gain the leadership posts in the organization. McQueen’s said his e-mail to the group was not indented to illicit any response, but Austin provided one.

July 27 email reply from Bret Austin to Steve McQueen.

If Austin truly means what he wrote to McQueen and chooses to show grace and humility while changing the way he conducts public business, he can be an even greater asset for our community.

The November 2020 action was fool me once.

The current imbroglio is fool me twice.

If these closed-door meetings consist and the actions of the Adams County Board do not change, Austin and Snider should be removed — either by the public or by a vote of members of the board like Hinkamper, who was the only one who voted against the raises.

Should the leadership of this board be removed after this? Or should they be given a third strike by the people?

That is for the voters to consider on Nov. 8 and for the members of the Adams County Board who are seated Dec. 1 to decide.

The raises aren’t the issue.

The way the Adams County Board conducts business in private is.

Bier was stripped of committee assignments by Snider as retribution for speaking out. He then resigned from the County Board, but he continues to provide good public service by keeping an eye on the actions his former colleagues.

And Bier is a noted ringleader of the Quincy Tea Party. No he’s not. He’s the farthest thing from it, I just can’t find my sarcasm font.

In the final Watergate reference of this piece, it’s usually not the crime, but the self-inflicted wound of the cover-up, that leads to political death.

Let’s hope the Adams County Board starts to look a little less like the Nixon administration from here on out.

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