Sangamon Co. (ECWd) -
The Village of Chatham held a meeting last week that we reported on in this article and apparently some locals took great angst with the article and it's title.
We have been told several citizens and even some employees of the Village have insisted that no violation took place because the meeting was canceled. I can only assume these people have never read the Open Meetings Act and actually applied it to the situation that took place last week.
"Meeting" means any gathering, whether in person or by video or audio conference, telephone call, electronic means (such as, without limitation, electronic mail, electronic chat, and instant messaging), or other means of contemporaneous interactive communication, of a majority of a quorum of the members of a public body held for the purpose of discussing public business or, for a 5-member public body, a quorum of the members of a public body held for the purpose of discussing public business."
Anyone that was present during the meeting in question knows that there was a gathering of a majority of a quorum of the members and a discussion of public business took place, both with the public at large and among the board members. That being the case, any claim that the meeting was "canceled" is nothing more than a lame attempt to not except that a violation of the Open Meetings Act took place.
The violation was not posting the meeting agenda/notice at the location of the meeting at least 48 hrs in advance of the meeting.
However, even if the meeting had been cancelled as some are trying to claim, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Failure to post an agenda/notice of a meeting is a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Assuming it was cancelled, the violation already took place. If the cancellation was based on a failure to post an agenda/notice, then such a cancellation is the acknowledgement of the violation.
"Sec. 2.02. Public notice of all meetings, whether open or closed to the public, shall be given as follows: (a) Every public body shall give public notice of the schedule of regular meetings at the beginning of each calendar or fiscal year and shall state the regular dates, times, and places of such meetings. An agenda for each regular meeting shall be posted at the principal office of the public body and at the location where the meeting is to be held at least 48 hours in advance of the holding of the meeting."
Considering no notice was posted as required by law and a meeting was held, it was a violation of the Open Meetings Act. There was no cancellation of the meeting. In fact, although a clear violation took place, the public body self-regulated, as in they recognized the mistake and followed the intent and spirit of the law. They took no action, as any action taken could be overturned based on the meeting not being posted properly, yet they allowed public comment.
"It is the public policy of this State that public bodies exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business and that the people have a right to be informed as to the conduct of their business. In order that the people shall be informed, the General Assembly finds and declares that it is the intent of this Act to ensure that the actions of public bodies be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly."
"The General Assembly further declares it to be the public policy of this State that its citizens shall be given advance notice of and the right to attend all meetings at which any business of a public body is discussed or acted upon in any way. Exceptions to the public's right to attend exist only in those limited circumstances where the General Assembly has specifically determined that the public interest would be clearly endangered or the personal privacy or guaranteed rights of individuals would be clearly in danger of unwarranted invasion."
The Village attorney suggested to the board that they go ahead with the meeting as it related to public comment with guidance that they can not take any action because of the failure to post the agenda/notice of the meeting. Recognizing the presence of a large number of concerned citizens and allowing them to speak and ask questions is in line with the spirit of the Open Meetings Act.
Was there a violation of the law? Yes, however, it does not appear it was an intentional violation and once the violation was identified, steps were taken to ensure no action was taken. By conducting a discussion with the public, the Village appeared to recognize it was not the people's fault that the meeting was not posted properly and by letting them speak showed their willingness to hear their grievances.
This concludes Open Meetings Act Training 101 for those thinking no violation took place.
Please consider a donation to the Edgar County Watchdogs.