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Monday, June 29, 2020

Local Governments Evaluate Physical Meeting Attendance During New Disaster Declaration

On Friday, Governor Pritzker signed a new disaster declaration and Executive Order No. 2020-44 that local governments should be aware of since they specifically mention physical attendance at public meetings.


As we previously reported, recent Open Meetings Act amendments allow local governments to hold meetings without a physical quorum under certain conditions.

One condition requires that members of the public present at the regular meeting location must be able to hear all discussion, testimony and votes of the public body. However, if  “attendance at the regular meeting location is not feasible due to the disaster, including the issued disaster declaration,” the public body must make alternative arrangements and provide notice allowing any “interested member of the public access to contemporaneously hear all discussion, testimony, and roll call votes, such as by offering a telephone number or a web-based link . . . .”

Another condition requires at least one member of the public body, the chief legal counsel, or the chief administrative officer to be physically present at the regular meeting location, unless the disaster makes it unfeasible.

Feasible Physical Public Attendance

In his most recent disaster declaration, the Governor states that for purposes of the new Open Meetings Act amendments, “I find that the public health concerns at issue in this proclamation render in-person attendance of more than fifty people at the regular meeting location not feasible.” However, many regular meeting locations will be unable to accommodate up to 50 people while practicing social distancing. As a result, local governments may need to independently establish how much physical attendance is feasible at their regular meeting locations during the disaster for meetings without a physical quorum. Local governments could also consider alternative meeting locations that may accommodate greater physical public attendance.

Feasible Physical Attendance for Public Body Members

Additionally, the Governor’s latest EO 2020-44 encourages at least one member of the public body to be physically present if others are attending by phone or electronically, even though the recent Open Meetings Act amendments also allow the chief legal counsel or chief administrative officer to satisfy this minimum physical presence requirement. The order does not reference the Open Meetings Act at all and the Governor is simply encouraging, not mandating, physical attendance by at least one member. That being said, local governments might consider whether it is feasible to have at least one public body member physically present at the meeting place when there is not a physical quorum.

Notice on Websites and Social Media

EO 2020-44 also states that public bodies “must take steps” to provide video, audio, and/or telephonic access to meetings to ensure members of the public may monitor the meeting, and to update their websites and social media feeds to keep the public fully apprised of any modifications to their meeting schedules or the format of their meetings due to COVID-19, as well their activities relating to COVID-19. These requirements previously expired with the adoption of the Open Meeting Act amendments but are re-imposed by this executive order.

Physical Quorum Meetings

Meanwhile, some local governments are returning to meetings with a physical quorum, where the ordinary Open Meetings Act requirements apply. In those meetings, local governments may continue to offer remote participation for members of the public, but remote participation for members of the public body should comply with the regular Open Meetings Act remote participation rules. Additionally, local governments might consider revisiting their public comment rules to accommodate the new avenues of public participation they opened in recent months.

The conditions in the new disaster declaration may persist until a vaccine or a highly-effective and widely available treatment exists. As a result, local governments should consider how the public, elected officials, and staff will participate in their public meetings under these conditions.

Post authored by Daniel J. Bolin


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