Illinois (ECWd) –
The Illinois Open Meetings Act is the state law that governs meetings for units of government. Over the years there have been hundreds of things that took place in public meetings resulting in the Attorney General and the courts issuing opinions on those matters.
It is important for people to know what the law says as it relates to public meetings. The reason it is important is so that when they speak to an issue or make demands they are doing so from an informed position rather than one stirred up by emotion and misinformation.
This article is going to focus on special meetings due to demands made by members of the public in a recent special meeting in Shelby County. During the recent county board special meeting, members of the public were demanding action to be taken on a matter and when it was not, it was perceived that their demands were being ignored and the board did not care about the county dive team or the alleged risk people on the lake are placed in, disregarding their recreational activities are done at their own risk. The resulting narrative on social media has been that they should resign because they took no action on a matter some believed must be taken.
Once again, we have to commend those members of the county board who understand the limitations they have in a special meeting. While demands were yelled at the county board and its chairman to take action, the chairman did the right thing, which was taking no action and having no discussion on the demands. While we understand how some became frustrated over what they perceived as ignoring them, no action or discussion was the right thing to do under the law. Sadly, a practicing attorney was offering his input and urging the board to act as well, which did nothing but help stir up more anger in the room when his improper advice was ignored. We mention the attorney’s input because it was yet another example of an attorney giving an off-the-cuff opinion without researching the matter. Not long ago another attorney insisted I could not speak to the items I chose at a meeting and insisted I restricted to only those items on the agenda. He was wrong and we proved it with the AG’s opinion on that very point and must note, as most know, we are not attorneys but we can read and comprehend.
Rather than learn the limitations placed on special meetings and why no discussion or action was taken, a select group of citizens has taken to social media to spread more lies and misinformation than I thought possible from adults.
The do’s and don’ts of a special meeting are simple. If it is on the agenda for discussion and or action, you can discuss and act on it. If not, you can not. Pretty simple.
What has the Attorney General Public Access Counselor said about special meeting action and discussion??
“Although a public body may discuss items not on the agenda during a regular meeting under the express language of section 2. 02( a) of OMA, the General Assembly specifically omitted that right for a public body holding a special meeting. See People v. Smith, 2016 IL 119659, ¶ 30, 76 N. E. 3d 1251, 1258 ( 2016) (“[ W] here the legislature includes particular language in one section of a statute but omits it in another section of the same statute, courts will presume that the legislature acted intentionally in the exclusion or inclusion.”). Therefore, the Public Access Bureau has determined that is improper for a public body to discuss a topic at a special meeting that is not listed on the agenda. See, for example, 111. Atfy Gen. PAC Req. Rev. Ltr. 32604, issued April 15, 2015.” (emphasis added) (Attorney General PAC determination)
“Improper for a public body to discuss a topic at a special meeting that is not on the agenda.”
“This office notes that although a public body must limit its discussion during a special meeting to the items on the agenda, OMA imposes no such limitation on public comment during special meetings.” (Attorney General PAC determination)
All of those people yelling and demanding for the board to take action clearly do not know the limitations of the Open Meetings Act as it relates to special meetings. Had the board taken action or even discussed the demands being made, they would have been in violation of the open meetings act because the matter was not on the agenda for either. Any discussion or action taken would be problematic because the law outlines such a violation is an actual crime. For the few board members who attempted to discuss the matter, maybe you need a refresher on the Open Meetings Act.
Those reading the circulated misinformation in Shelby County about this recent meeting, please know your county board followed the law rather than give in to demands being yelled at them throughout most of the meeting.
Citizen engagement is encouraged but so is being educated on what a board can and cannot do in a special meeting.