A citizen’s arrest of the entire park district board of a southern Illinois county has generated lasting buzz and even caused the county to make changes to the way it conducts business.
Talk of John Kraft’s citizen’s arrest of the park district board of Clark County, Illinois, continues on message boards like the one hosted on Democratic Underground. And the Ocala Post ran a recent story about the incident.
Kraft is a founding member of the private watchdog group called Illinois Leaks. He made his notable citizen’s arrest in May, accusing the board of violating the state’s Open Meetings Act.
About 30 citizens attended the park district board’s meeting that night. But the board adjourned to an executive session that was conducted behind closed doors. Many in attendance sat, waiting for over two hours for members to return to the public meeting. When they did, they voted not to allow public comments, as required by law, and adjourned.
That’s when Kraft sprang to action.
“It was the way they said ‘no,’” Kraft told NBC-Chicago.
Kraft recorded video of the meeting and board attorney, Kate Yargus, can be heard on the recording telling citizens there would be no public comments and that board members were free to go. That was despite Kraft’s announcement that he wanted the members to remain in the room until law enforcement officials arrived.
“I was concerned," board member Jeff Wallace said later. “I thought ‘Wow. Is somebody going to get confrontational here?’ I had no idea how a citizen's arrest would even work.”
Clark County Sheriff Jerry Parsley responded personally to the call, saying he understood the situation was heated.
He later told the Better Government Association that Kraft handled the citizen’s arrest appropriately and when he arrived, decided the board was in violation of the law. He arrested six of the seven members.
“It's not that they should have let people speak. They're mandated to,” Parsley said. “The people need to have their voice. It's not a dictatorship. It's a democracy.”
Kraft’s Illinois Leaks partner, Kirk Allen, later filed a lawsuit demanding the board create an Open Meetings Act policy that would allow up to 30 minutes for public comment. The lawsuit also asked the board to reimburse the watchdog group over $400 in court costs associated with the suit.
Allen’s efforts received attention in The National Law Review in September after the board settled the suit out of court. As part of the settlement, Illinois Leaks was paid $415.50 to cover court costs and the board adopted the requested policy.