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Former County Supervisor Considering Legal Action


A former member of the Lee County Board of Supervisors -- who was accused of participating in illegal secret meetings when he served on the board -- wants the county to recoup the money spent in his defense following the dismissal of a lawsuit against him. Ernie Schiller said the actions of the people who filed the lawsuit will end up costing taxpayers money at a time when the county budget is tight.
"I'm hoping our county and our citizens of Lee County would ask the Board of Supervisors to [try to] recover those damages... to replace our insurance company's expenditures," said Schiller. "Insurance is not cheap and [this could] affect future rates."

In September 2014, a lawsuit was filed in South Lee County District Court by a group of Keokuk residents: James Bowles, Vickie Briscoe, Jimmy Johnson, Kevin Kuckelman,  Anthony Sargent and Birdwell Sutlive, Jr. The suit was filed against Schiller, who was chairman of the board at the time, and fellow supervisors Ron Fedler and Rick Larkin, both of whom are still on the board.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that Schiller, Fedler, and Larkin held secret meetings on several occasions in late 2014, which is around the time when the county was considering a proposal to move from two county seats to one.

An unannounced meeting of three supervisors would be illegal because there are only five members of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, so three constitutes a quorum.

Schiller said if the plaintiffs had proof those meetings occurred, they should not have dropped the lawsuit.

"If they had evidence, the people of Lee County should have heard that evidence and I would have liked to have heard that evidence," said Schiller. "If they had evidence on us, I don't think they would have dropped it."

Curtis Dial, the attorney for the plaintiffs, told Tri States Public Radio in an e-mail that his clients dropped the lawsuit because they were confident this would not happen again in the future, given the new make-up of the board. The one difference is that Schiller is off the board after being defeated by Don Hunold in the June 2014 primary.

Schiller is not satisfied with that answer.

"The people who filed [this] lawsuit should take very seriously... when you accuse someone, you better have the evidence."

Schiller said he has talked to legal counsel about his options, including a possible lawsuit for defamation of his character.

"We were judged pretty harshly and I think the people who filed the lawsuit should realize there's a two way street here and they may want to be thinking about what they are doing in the future," said Schiller. "I'm not saying I'm playing the same shenanigans. I am looking at all options available to me as a citizen of Lee County and as a taxpayer of Lee County."

The county's insurance company paid for the defense of Schiller, Fedler, and Larkin, minus a deductible, because the activity alleged in the lawsuit was related to county government. The county has not received a bill for the deductible, which will likely be paid with property tax revenue.

The lawsuit was dropped without prejudice, which means it can be re-filed at any time.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.