Updates on cases, laws, and other topics of interest to local governments

Subscribe by Email

Enter your Email:
Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Subscribe in a Reader

Follow Municipal Minute on Twitter


Blog comments do not reflect the views or opinions of the Author or Ancel Glink. Some of the content may be considered attorney advertising material under the applicable rules of certain states. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Please read our full disclaimer

Monday, September 23, 2019

PAC Addresses "Open and Convenient" Requirement of the OMA

Thanks to one of our readers, we recently were forwarded a non-binding Public Access Counselor opinion (2019 PAC 58076) that looked at whether a city council took sufficient measures to make some of its meetings accessible to the public pursuant to the "open and convenient" requirement under Section 2.01 of the Open Meetings Act.

Media outlets reported that after a local election, an Illinois city would discuss the qualifications of its Mayor-Elect during its April 22, 2019 council meeting. Specifically, the city council planned to discuss whether the Mayor-Elect met the residency requirements. At that meeting, however, the city council recessed the meeting prior to any discussion of the Mayor-Elect when the council learned the Mayor-Elect could not attend the initial meeting. The meeting reconvened the following evening.

The April 23, 2019 meeting was held at its usual location, in council chambers. The city council stated that it typically had seating for 49 members of the public, although average attendance did not exceed 20. The council anticipated that turnout would be higher for both meetings based on the public’s interest of the Mayor-Elect’s qualifications for office, so it supplied 103 chairs and allowed additional attendees to stand at the back of the chambers. Attendance on both nights reached the chambers’ maximum capacity, and some attendees had to temporarily wait in line outside of the chambers until other individuals left to gain access to the meeting.

One member of the public filed a request for review with the PAC alleging that the city council violated the OMA by improperly denying access to members of the public who wanted to attend the April 23, 2019 meeting because the meeting location reached its maximum capacity. The city council responded that the city’s fire chief did not turn any member of the public away or tell any attendee that they could not attend the meeting. The council further argued that at both meetings, members of the public were eventually permitted access.

In its July 31, 2019 determination letter, the PAC concluded that the city council did not violate the accessibility requirements of the OMA. The PAC reasoned that the city council only was required to provide reasonable access – not absolute access. The PAC noted that the council took reasonable steps to provide access by more than doubling the amount of seating in anticipation of a larger-than-usual turnout at the meetings, and that the council allowed other attendees to stand in the back of the chambers.

When anticipating increased turnout at a public meeting, local governments should remember to take all steps necessary to provide members of the public reasonable access. That may require bringing in additional seating, relocating the meeting to a larger venue, setting up additional rooms or areas where members of the public can watch live-streamed proceedings and still participate in public comment, or other steps to provide reasonable access.

Post Authored by Ashton Tunk & Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


Post a Comment