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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Court Rules Against PAC

You may remember that earlier this year, we posted about PAC opinion 14-001, where the PAC found a school district in violation of the Open Meetings Act for failing to adequately discuss the significance of approving a separation agreement prior to the school board voting on it.  The district appealed to the circuit court, which found ruled against the PAC, finding that its opinion was not consistent with the OMA in Board of Education of Springfield v. Attorney General.

Both the trial court decision and the PAC opinion turned on the interpretation of Section 2 (e) of the OMA, which requires a public recitation of the nature of the matter being discussed prior to a vote on an agenda item.  In its opinion, the PAC  interpreted that section to require the school board to "provide a verbal explanation of the significance of its action to members of the public who are present at the meeting before the public body can proceed to consider action taken. " Although the school board had, in fact, engaged in a discussion prior to voting on the agreement, the PAC found the board in violation of this section of the OMA for failing to explain to the public the significance of approving the separation agreement.

The court, however, disagreed with the PAC's interpretation, finding no support in Illinois law for "such an expansion of the requirements of Section 2 (e) of the Open Meetings Act." The court noted that not only did board members engage in discussion before voting, they had also posted a copy of the agreement five days before the meeting.

This is a good result for public bodies and it's the right one.  The PAC's expansive reading of the OMA to require an explanation of the significance of an agenda item prior to voting is simply not consistent with the OMA nor common practices of public bodies.  That interpretation also created uncertainty for public bodies in their use of consent agendas.

The PAC filed a notice of appeal to the appellate court on October 27, 2014, so this case is not over. We will keep you posted.

Post authored by Julie Tappendorf


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