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Monday, June 30, 2014

Citizen’s Arrest Made At Park Board Meeting for Alleged OMA Violation

UPDATE:  Subsequent to the meeting at which the citizens arrest was made, the Clark County Park District adopted a new policy allowing up to 30 minutes of public comment at every meeting.

Today's post involves our second "public comment" case in under a week.  This case deals with an Illinois park district board that did not allow public comment at a recent board meeting.  You might recall that last week we reported on a New Mexico case where the court struck down a public comment policy that banned "negative" or critical public comments as unconstitutional. 

On May 12, 2014, the Clark County Park District Board held a special meeting, where it went into executive session to discuss the executive director’s evaluation.  After returning to open session, the Board voted to table the “status of executive director” agenda item.  According to news reports and a subsequently filed lawsuit, members of the public had, apparently, requested and were denied an opportunity to speak at the meeting before the meeting was adjourned.  

Shortly after the meeting was adjourned, John Kraft, a member of the citizen’s group Illinois Leaks (formerly known as Edgar County Watchdogs), placed the Park Board members under citizen’s arrest for allegedly violating Section 120/2.06(g) of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.  That section provides that “[a]ny person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.”  A few days after the meeting, Kirk Allen also filed a lawsuit against the Park Board claiming that the Board violated the OMA by refusing to allow public comment at the special meeting.  Allen v. Clark County Park District (May 15, 2014)

It is important to point out that Section 2.06(g) of the OMA does not state that a public body must include a public comment section at every meeting.  Instead, that section requires a public body to provide some opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.  Thus, it seems reasonable to interpret the statute to allow a public body to adopt a rule that provides an opportunity for public comment at all regular meetings, but not special meetings or committee meetings.  However, it's not clear that the Public Access Counselor of the Attorney General's office would agree with that interpretation.  In fact, the PAC previously found the Naperville Electoral Board in violation of the Open Meetings Act when it failed to allow for public comment at a special electoral board meeting in 2012.  We reported on that opinion here.

Because this will be the first time a court will address this issue, this case will be worth watching to see how a court interprets the "opportunity to address public officials" requirement of Section 2.06(g).   

Post Authored by Tiffany Nelson-Jaworski and Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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