By: Brittany Flaherty Theis
The Illinois Attorney General (the “AG”) has published new guidance for public bodies regarding the “public recital” and “other information” requirements of the Open Meetings Act (the “OMA”). In Public Access Opinion 14-001, the AG determined that a Springfield school district violated Section 2(e) of the OMA when it failed to provide a sufficient public recital of the nature of a separation agreement and other information necessary to inform the public of the business being conducted before taking final action to approve the agreement. (Note: This is the same agreement that the Board initially voted to approve in closed session and was at issue in Public Access Opinion 13-007.)
Section 2(e) of the OMA requires that before a public body takes final action it must: 1. publicly recite the nature of its action and 2. provide such other information as will inform the public of the business being conducted. In this case, prior to voting to approve a separation agreement with a former superintendent, the school board read the agenda item and called for a motion, but no other information was given to the public in attendance prior to the board approving the agreement in a 6-1 vote. The school board failed to give additional information even after one of its members stated that she did not know why the agreement was happening and that she didn’t know what to tell people when they asked why the board was taking these actions. The board did not publicly discuss or summarize the terms of the agreement nor did it state the reasons that led to terminating the superintendent’s employment.
On review, the AG stated that the “public recital” required by Section 2(e) must be verbal and take place during the public meeting. The fact that the agenda and agreement were posted on the school district’s website (to comply with Section 2.02 of the OMA) did not mean the district complied with the separate and distinct requirements of Section 2(e). Posting an agreement online with the agenda is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of Section 2(e).
Compliance with Section 2(e) of the OMA, that members of the public receive “other information that will inform [them] of the business being conducted,” requires that the public be informed of the key terms of a proposed public contract or agreement. The board should have provided a verbal explanation of the significance of its action before taking the vote. This doesn’t mean a board needs to read an entire agreement aloud, but it should provide the public with a summary of the pertinent terms before a vote is called.
The attorneys at Whitt Law follow the developments in case law regarding the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act and have been advising public bodies regarding compliance with both for many years. Please contact Whitt Law Attorney Brian Bare for assistance with any questions you may have regarding the OMA or FOIA.
5 ILCS 120/2(e) Open Meetings.
“(e) Final action. No final action may be taken at a closed meeting. Final action shall be preceded by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and other information that will inform the public of the business being conducted.”