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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Court Denies TRO to Stop Remote City Council Meeting

We have written a number of times about conducting remote meetings during the COVID-19 crisis, including summarizing the Attorney General's guidance and recent advisory opinions finding that two public bodies had not violated the OMA in conducting a remote meeting. We recently learned about a lawsuit brought against a municipality to challenge a proposed remote city council meeting to consider a controversial land annexation issue. 

In Evans v. City of Joliet, four individuals brought a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction on Monday asking a judge to issue a TRO against the City to stop it from conducting a meeting on a proposed annexation relating to a controversial warehouse, distribution, and manufacturing development called NorthPoint.

Plaintiffs made two arguments in their TRO motion. First, they claimed that the meeting was not "necessary" under the Governor's Executive Orders, including the Governor's stay at home order and the Governor's order allowing remote meetings of government bodies. Plaintiffs argue that there is no indication that the City will be harmed if the vote on the annexation is postponed until an "open" meeting can be held. Second, they claimed that the proposed remote meeting did not comply with the OMA requirement that meetings be "reasonably accessible." Specifically, plaintiffs argued that some residents may not have access to cable TV or the Internet to be able to watch the meeting. Plaintiffs argued that the City should have gone further in providing technical assistance to residentsit is  in how to attend the meeting and should have provided a phone number to answer questions and assist residents, or alternatively, should have made accommodations for residents to attend the meeting in person. 

The motion was filed on Monday morning, and the Court held a hearing by conference call on Monday afternoon. The Court first determined that the issue of whether a meeting is necessary or not is up to the City and its elected officials, and not the Court, to decide. Second, the Court determined that the City had provided a "reasonable opportunity to participate" to members of the public by announcing the meeting five days in advance, permitting the public to comment by telephone and email, streaming the meeting live on the City's website and on public access television, and recording the meeting and making it available on the City's website after the meeting. The Court noted that a very small segment of the population may not have access to the Internet or cable TV but that did not make the City's meeting illegal. 

In sum, the Court did not find a violation of the OMA and denied the request for a TRO to stop the meeting.

You can read the court order and the plaintiffs' TRO motion here.


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