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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Electoral Board Violated Open Meetings Act in Deciding Objection Prior to Meeting

 The PAC office of the Illinois Attorney General recently issued an advisory opinion finding that the City of Naperville’s Municipal Officers Electoral Board violated multiple sections of the Open Meetings Act.  An individual had alleged that the Electoral Board made its decision to sustain an objection to a petition to place an advisory referendum on the ballot behind closed doors and prior to the Electoral Board meeting. He further alleged that the Electoral Board failed to provide proper notice of the meeting and an opportunity for public comment at the meeting.

According to the PAC opinion, members had individually reviewed the evidence and signed a written decision to sustain the objection prior to the Electoral Board meeting.  Then, at the meeting, the members voted to approve the written decision, announcing that “the written decision and order of the Board” concluded the matter.  The PAC determined that the Electoral Board violated the OMA because it requires that “any 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.” The Attorney General emphasized that public bodies must deliberate openly.  

The PAC also determined that the Electoral Board violated the OMA by not listing the agenda items on the meeting notice and by not providing an opportunity for public comment at the meeting.

However, the PAC found no evidence that two or more Electoral Board members held a “contemporaneous interactive discussion” concerning the matter so the Board did not hold an undisclosed, private meeting in violation of the OMA.

It is important to remember that an earlier version of the bill that amended the OMA to require public comment expressly stated that public comment would be required "at meetings" of the public body.  That language did not find its way into the approved version of the bill, however.  The statute, as approved, simply requires a public body to provide an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established by the public body.   Nevertheless, the PAC appears to have interpreted the statute to mandate that the Electoral Board allow public comment at its meeting.  Given the broad scope of the PAC's opinions lately and this ruling, it appears that the PAC is reading into the OMA a requirement that public comment be provided at every meeting of a public body, even though that is not the statutory requirement. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink 


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