It’s a story of self-governance at its finest.  The Park District Board of Clark County, Illinois, refused to allow 30 community members to express concerns at their May 2014 meeting, so one man put them all under a citizen’s arrest for violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

The Open Meetings Act requires elected bodies to allow the public an opportunity to speak at their meetings.  After two hours of closed deliberations, the Clark County Park District Board reopened the meeting to the public only to adjourn immediately.  When John Kraft and others asked for a chance to speak to the board, they were refused.

That’s when Kraft stood up, with his copy of the citizen’s arrest statute in hand.  He explained that they were required by law to give the public opportunity to speak, but the Board’s attorney, Kate Yargus, maintained that “there is no public comment at these meetings.”  So Kraft notified all board members that he was exercising his right to place them under a citizen’s arrest and requested that they submit to custody until the sheriff could arrive.

When Clark County Sheriff Jerry Parsley arrived, he said Kraft was right and enforced the arrest.  Kraft had handled the situation responsibly, and the board was definitely in violation of the Open Meetings Act.  This was technically a misdemeanor.  No criminal charges are expected to be filed, but the watchdog group of which Kraft is a member has filed a lawsuit against the board.

“Sooner or later, we’ve got to start enforcing our laws,” said Kirk Allen, another member of the watchdog group present at the meeting.

Board members receive regular training on the Open Meetings Act from the Illinois attorney general.  All members’ training was up-to-date, yet they followed the advice of their legal counsel instead, who also should have known the law’s requirements.  Board member Jeff Wallace said he knew the board should have allowed public comment at the time, but he didn’t speak up for fear he would lack support.

Pat McCraney with the Better Government Association called the incident a cautionary tale for everyone in government.

You have to let the public talk. [Board members] might not think about that too much – they’re thinking about themselves in a lot of cases – but they work for the public, and they need to let the public have its say.

Kraft knew his rights and wasn’t afraid to exercise them.  He knew the board was violating the law.  He refused to take excuses and calmly held them responsible for ignoring the statute even after they were made aware of it.  He could have gone home frustrated and disillusioned along with the other 30 people who hoped to have a say in their community that night.  But he stood up.

And his actions made a difference.  As a result of Kraft’s confrontation, things are going to change.  The board voted a month later to adopt an Open Meetings Act policy to ensure up to 30 minutes of public comment at future meetings.

Take a lesson from Mr. Kraft and refuse to submit when your rights are taken away.  Ensure our nation is remains a place of liberty by knowing your rights and exercising your responsibilities in your own communities.

About The Author

Mark Meckler

Mark was a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, and served as the national coordinator. He left the organization to work more broadly on expanding the self-governance movement beyond the partisan divide. Mark appears regularly on television in outlets as diverse as MSNBC, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, Bloomberg, Fox Business and the BBC. He’s highly sought after for the tea party perspective from print and electronic media outlets, from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Examiner, Politico and the The Hill. Mark blogs at MarkMeckler.com, and his opinion editorials regularly run in many of the leading political newspapers both on and offline. Mark has a BA in English from San Diego State University and graduated with honors from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in 1988. He practiced real estate and business law for almost a decade. For the last eleven years of his legal career he specialized in Internet advertising law. When not fighting for the future of our nation, Mark is an avid horseman, and lives in rural northern California with his wife Patty and two children.