Despite some concerns, the new Shelby County Board Chairman Bruce Cannon said Monday that the hiring of a special assistant State’s Attorney for labor relations in 2014 was legal.

The Edgar County Watchdogs spoke last week at the Shelby County Board meeting about a couple of issues. One was the hiring of Ed Flynn, a Decatur lawyer, as a labor relations attorney.

In March of 2014, when Cannon was Shelby County Board Chairman in a previous term, the board minutes record:

“Chairman Bruce Cannon addressed the board requesting they approve a Resolution to hire attorney Edward Flynn from Decatur for Labor Relations for Fiscal Year 2014-2015 at a rate of$150.00 per hour. Flynn currently does labor relations for both Moultrie and Macon Counties. Discussion was held. Bennett made a motion to approve the Resolution to hire Edward Flynn to represent the County for Labor Relations for Fiscal Year 2014-2015 at a rate of $150.00 per hour. Kearney seconded said motion, which passed by roll call vote. (20 yes, 0 no)”

Resolution 2014-07 was then adopted.

“WHEREAS, the County of Shelby, State of Illinois, resolves to hire Attorney Ed Flynn, currently practicing with the firm of Featherstun, Gaumer, Postlewait, Stocks, Flynn & Hubbard to be a special assistant State’s Attorney, for the purpose of labor negotiations for the 2014-2015 Budget Year at a cost of $150. 00 per hour. NOW, THEREFORE, it is hereby resolved that Shelby County shall immediately hereby hire Attorney Ed Flynn as a special assistant State’s Attorney for the purpose of labor negotiations: Duly presented, adopted and approved this 12th March, 2014.”

It was then signed by Cannon.

According to the Edgar County Watchdogs, despite the unanimous county board vote, the hiring of Flynn was not legal. They cite a court case to back their claim.

“The law is well settled that when the constitution or the laws of the State create an office, prescribe the duties of its incumbent and fix his compensation, no other person or board, except by action of the legislature, has the authority to contract with private individuals to expend public funds for the purpose of performing the duties which were imposed upon such officer. (Fergus v. Russel, 270 Ill. 304; Stevens v. HenryCounty, 218 Ill. 468; Hope v. City of Alton, 214 Ill. 102.) The contracts of employment under which appellants claim were ultra vires and void.”

Cannon contends that the hiring of Flynn was legal.

“The State’s Attorney advised the county that it was perfectly legal to appoint Ed Flynn to represent the county,” Cannon said. “He was appointed as an assistant state’s attorney. He is like Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Bach only his (Flynn’s) role is a labor attorney.”

In previous labor negotiations with the county, the State’s Attorney would recuse him or herself and the Appellate Prosecutor would represent the county.

However, Cannon said the county did receive adequate representation in previous negotiations.

“What we received from the Attorney General’s office was less than satisfactory,” Cannon said. “We sought better representation in our contracts. I intended to save the county money and we received pretty poor counsel from the State.”

The sticking point may be that an Illinois Statute may disagree.

(55 ILCS 5/Div. 3-9008)(from Ch. 34, par. 3-9008) Sec. 3-9008. Appointment of attorney to perform duties. (a-20) Prior to appointing a private attorney under this Section, the court shall contact public agencies, including, but not limited to, the Office of Attorney General, Office of the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor, or local State’s Attorney’s Office throughout the State, to determine a public prosecutor’s availability to serve as a special prosecutor at no cost to the county and shall appoint a public agency if they are and willing to accept the appointment.”

If a public attorney is available to serve, at no cost to the county, is it legal for a county to go ahead and appoint a private attorney as an assistant State’s Attorney to represent that county? Was there a public attorney available back in 2014 for that purpose or since then? Once a private attorney is appointed as an assistant State’s Attorney is he serving as a public attorney, who gets paid for his work?

Cannon says they were advised that it was legal.

In almost six years as an appointed assistant state’s attorney, the county has been billed in excess of $30,000, about $5,000 a year.

The Edgar County watchdogs also questioned if there was a comparison between Chairman Cannon and the Piatt County Chairman Ray Spencer, who was arrested.

It is alleged that Spencer was charged with two counts of forgery and one charge of official misconduct. It is alleged that Spencer attempted to hire an outside lawyer before county budget negotiations.

Cannon dismissed the comparison between Shelby County and Piatt County and himself and Spencer, who is being individually charged with crimes.

“That comparison is not even apples and oranges,” Cannon said. “In that case, they are talking about forging checks.”

As far as hiring Flynn, Cannon pointed out, once again, it was a county board decision.

“When Bruce Cannon acts, he never acts alone,” Cannon said. “Flynn represented other counties and we passed a resolution to appoint him as an assistant State’s Attorney.”

John Curtis can be reached at john.curtis@shelbyvilledailyunion.com

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