Thursday, January 7th, 2016

Appellate Court Overturns Illinois Attorney General’s PAC Opinions

Last month, an Illinois Appellate Court reversed two of the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor (PAC) opinions. Both opinions deal with Section 2(e) of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA). As we previously reported, the PAC’s opinions regard the definition of a “final action” and the notice that must be given to the public before there is any “final action.”

The issue involved a school board’s “Separation Agreement and Release” between itself and the school superintendent. During a portion of the School Board’s February 4, 2013, closed session, six of the seven board members signed the agreement. The Board then placed the agreement on its March 5, 2013, agenda, and also posted a copy of the agreement and a short description on its website. The Board, on March 5, 2013, voted to approve the agreement during its open session.

First, the Attorney General determined that the signing of the agreement during the closed session constituted a “final action,” and therefore the Board had violated Section 2(e) of the OMA. Second, the Attorney General also determined that the posting of the full agreement online along with the agenda and the short description of the agreement, which was stated during the open meeting, was not enough to sufficiently inform the public of the business being conducted.

The Appellate Court disagreed as to both matters. First, the court found that no “final action” took place during the closed session because, under the statute, a “final action” can only occur at a properly conducted public forum, and thus it was impossible for a “final action” to have occurred in the closed session. Thus, the open vote on March 5, 2013, was the actual “final action,” not the placement of signatures on an agreement during the February 4, 2013, closed session.

Additionally, the Appellate Court also found that the Attorney General was incorrect to conclude that the Board failed to sufficiently inform the public of its business. The Court found that the short description and online posting of the agreement within the Board’s agenda was sufficient. Specifically, the Court stated that the OMA does not “require the public body to provide a detailed explanation about the significance or impact of the proposed final action.”

The Appellate Court’s holding serves as a relief for municipalities that may have been concerned as to how these recent PAC opinions might have affected its use of agendas and whether a detailed explanation of its business was necessary.


Jacob-D.-Caudill

Author: Jacob D. Caudill