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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Appelate Court Reverses 2 PAC Binding Opinions

We have previously reported on two binding PAC opinions that found a Springfield School District in violation of the Open Meetings Act in its actions in terminating its superintendent in 2013.  See posts here, here, and here.  In a bit of good news for public bodies, the appellate court reversed the PAC yesterday in Board of Education of Springfield Sch. Dist. No. 186 v. Attorney General of Illinois, 2015 IL App (4th) 140941.

In its first binding opinion on this matter, issued in 2013, the PAC concluded that the District violated the OMA when the Board members signed the separation agreement in closed session. Specifically, the PAC ruled that the signing constituted "final action" in violation of Section 2(e) of the OMA.

In the second binding opinion, issued in 2014, the PAC concluded that the District violated the OMA when the Board did not sufficiently describe the separation agreement before it voted to approve the agreement.  

The District appealed both of these binding opinions to the circuit court.  In November of 2013, the circuit court found that the Board erred in concluding that signing the agreement constituted final action, finding that the final action actually occurred on March 5, 2013, when the Board voted to approve the agreement in open session.  In September of 2014, the circuit court reversed the second binding opinion, finding that the PAC's opinion "significantly expands the requirements" of the OMA by requiring the public body to explain he significance of the final action to be taken. 

Subsequently, the PAC appealed both circuit court rulings to the appellate court, which issued an opinion yesterday upholding the circuit court rulings.  In short, the appellate court ruled against the PAC, and held that the District did not violate the OMA.  

First, the appellate court agreed with the circuit court that the signing of an agreement in closed session did not constitute final action. The court held that the District's final action on the separation agreement was taken a month later, in open session, and in accordance with the OMA.  Second, the appellate court held that the public was adequately informed of the action that was taken by the Board in voting to approve the separation agreement. The agreement itself was made available on the District's website in advance of the meeting and the Board President introduced the agreement at the meeting. The court found no requirement under the OMA that the Board explain the significance or impact of the proposed final action, as argued by the PAC.

This is certainly good news for public bodies that may have been concerned how these binding opinions might affect their use of consent agendas or require some form of detailed explanation of the significance or impact before voting on each agenda item. In this case, the appellate court acknowledged that the OMA requires no such explanation.   

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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