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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Public Bodies Violated OMA in Two Recent PAC Decisions

Continuing its streak of ruling against public bodies in binding opinions, the PAC issued two recent opinions finding both public bodies in violation of the OMA.  Neither decision should surprise anyone based on the fact patterns presented, although public bodies should take notice of the PAC's very broad interpretation of the new "general subject matter" requirement for agenda descriptions.
In 2013 PAC 22987 (issued April 16, 2013), the PAC concluded that the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners violated the OMA by taking final action to increase admission fees without listing the matter on the agenda for the meeting at which the vote was taken.  The Board defended its action by arguing that it "substantially complied" with the OMA because the fee increase item was listed on the Committee on Programs and Recreation meeting agenda that preceded the Board meeting.  Furthermore, the Board noted that the Board meeting agenda listed "Communications and Reports: Committee on Programs and Recreation," under which the Board approved the fee increases.  The PAC, however, found that final action on the fee increase was taken at the later Board meeting, and that the agenda for that meeting did not specifically list the admission fee increase item.  In the PAC's opinion, the "Communications and Reports" agenda item was not specific enough to give the public notice of that action item. 
In support of its ruling, the PAC cited the new OMA language in Section 2.02(c). That language provides that "[a]ny agenda required under this Section shall set forth the general subject matter of any resolution or ordinance that will be the subject of final action at the meeting."  It is not clear from the opinion that the Board's approval of the fee increase was pursuant to a resolution or ordinance, however, suggesting that the PAC may be interpreting Section 2.02(c) in a manner that goes far beyond the language actually enacted by the legislature.
In the second opinion, 2013 PAC 23177 (issued April 23, 2013), the PAC concluded that the Western Illinios University Board of Trustees violated the OMA by taking final action on an employment matter in executive session. According to the opinion, the WIU Board met in closed session to discuss "personnel" matters.  At the end of the discussion, the Board voted to terminate the employment of a faculty member in closed session. The Board then reconvened to open session, but did not take any final action. The PAC determined that the WIU Board improperly took final action in closed session in violation of Section 2(e) of the OMA. The Board was directed by the PAC to include the termination of the employee on an upcoming meeting agenda (open session), and provide the public with an adequate explanation of the nature of its action prior to taking any vote.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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