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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Village Board Violates OMA in Discussing Budget Issues in Closed Session

On July 11, 2012, the Illinois Attorney General issued a binding opinion finding that a Village Board violated the Open Meetings Act where the personnel and finance committees discussed budgetary matters in a closed meeting. 

A news reporter had filed a complaint with the AG alleging that the two committees had improperly discussed the Village's budget in closed session.  The committees had cited the "personnel" exemption to go into closed session to discuss individual employees.  The reporter claimed that the committees also discussed budget cuts.  The AG reviewed the minutes and recordings of the closed session meetings and concluded that the personnel exemption did not extend to discussion of fiscal matters even if that discussion would directly or indirectly impact Village employees.  

Based on this opinion, it appears that the AG would require a Village Board to go in and out of executive session to discuss layoffs of individual employees due to budgetary constraints.  For example, if the public body is discussing the relative merits of individual employees in considering layoffs, that discussion may be conducted in closed session.  However, the underlying budgetary discussion leading to the layoff decision must be conducted in open session. 

It is important to note that in its opinion, the AG expressly rejected the Appellate Court's holding in Gosnell v. Hogan, 179 Ill.App.3d 161 (1989).  In that case, the appellate court interpreted the personnel exemption as authorizing the discussion of topics that did not clearly fall within the scope of the personnel exemption but which were generally related thereto.  The AG relied on language added to section 2(b) of the OMA in 1995 stating that the OMA exceptions "are in derogation of the requirement that public bodies meet in the open, and therefore, the exceptions are to be strictly construed, extending only to subjects clearly within their scope."  The AG takes the position that this amendatory language (added six years after Gosnell was decided) was intended to address the court's interpretation in Gosnell.  It would be interesting to know how the Illinois Supreme Court would view the AG's decision to ignore binding court precedent in issuing this opinion.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink.


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