Mattoon, IL. (ECWd) –
During the October 11, 2022, Mattoon CUSD #2 Board meeting, members of the board accused one of their own of violating the Open Meetings Act when she sent an email to more than one board member asking to have a specific agenda item placed on the upcoming board meeting agenda.
As we understand it, a school board member sent an email to three other board members stating she wanted a specific item added to the next meeting agenda. There were no replies, discussions, or other actions.
There was quite a lengthy discussion on this and other topics, including one board member stating, “The board is here to support this administration and this superintendent, not to be the voice [of the people].” Damn the public who elected her.
The False Accusation
Board President Michelle Skinlo and Board Member Dale Righter both accused a fellow board member of violating the open meetings act when she sent an email to more than one board member requesting a specific item be placed on the agenda.
The President repeatedly stated she was not an attorney and could not state specifically which part of the OMA was violated, only that it was violated.
Now comes board member and former Senator Dale Righter (see approx. the 8:30 mark in the below video), who read a brief passage from Section 1.02 of the OMA, and states that one does not need to be an attorney to understand what is written. Righter only read the first part of the sentence and left out the part which would have proved her email was not a violation; there must have been contemporaneous interactive communications (there was not). Righter, being an attorney himself, might want to attend the Attorney General’s Open Meetings Act training again, because he obviously got this one wrong. Righter stated “all the elements are there” for a violation, which was a false statement, and his elementary understanding of the OMA leaves a lot to be desired.
There is absolutely no Open Meetings Act violation from one board member emailing other (or all) board members a simple statement similar to the email in this fake controversy: “Please put this item on the next meeting agenda”
The originating email was not a violation. What would have been a violation, if one or more recipients replied to all and entered into a written “contemporaneous interactive” discussion of the originating email. That could have been an OMA violation (depending on the timing of discussions) on the part of those replying – not on the member sending the originating email.
Truth: Sending an Email Does Not Violate the OMA
From the Illinois Local Government Lawyers Association’s OMA and FOIA class during their 2020 annual conference, which included Leah Bartelt, from the Attorney General’s Public Access Bureau as an instructor. Download the slide PDF here.
Page 10 of the pdf explains what constitutes a violation of the OMA (See page 15) – and it is not what the school board president and Dale Righter say it is.
All three of these must be true for a violation to occur:
- There must be contemporaneous interactive communications (see pages 11-15), and,
- It must regard public business, and,
- There must be a majority of a quorum of the public body involved
The ILGL also uploaded a series of Attorney General Opinions. We direct you to page 18, AG Op. 2018 PAC 53781, which concluded that “. . . the board of education did not violate the OMA in connection with an e-mail statement issued on May 17, 2018.” The opinion starting on page 26 comes to the same conclusion but is related to text messages.
The Village Attorney of the Village of Oak Park wrote a legal opinion in 2013 which concluded emails sent, such as the one this school board member sent, do not violate the OMA:
- If one Board member sends an e-mail to a distribution list of two or more other Board members and there are no replies, a discussion of public business has not occurred and there is no violation of Act. The e-mail is merely an electronic version of a “letter” to all Board members.
- If a Board member sends an e-mail to a distribution list of two or more other Board members and individual Board members reply only to the sender, and the sender does not share or summarize those replies, no discussion of public business has occurred. Thus, there is no violation of the Act as each Board member communicated individually with the sender of the initial e-mail.