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Thursday, June 4, 2020

New PAC Opinion on Discussion of Personnel Evaluations in Closed Session

The Illinois Attorney General’s PAC Office just released its fourth binding opinion for 2020. In PAC Op. 2020-04, the PAC found an Illinois local school council violated the Open Meetings Act when it discussed the timing and process for the school principal's evaluation in closed session.

While the council properly closed a portion of its meeting to discuss the specific individual ratings of a principal and council members' opinions on the principal’s performance, the PAC determined that the remainder of the closed session discussion was improper because it discussed alternate options for a new process to evaluate the principal and the timing of the evaluation process which are not permissible closed session topics. The PAC noted that the OMA exemption in section 2(c)(1) does not authorize closing a portion of a meeting to discuss the personnel evaluation process generally,  or the timing or scheduling of such process. 

The PAC stated that there is a significant public interest in a public body’s discussion of the process for evaluating high-ranking school administrators, which must be done in open session. Additionally, the PAC noted that the mere possibility than an open session discussion might touch on issues that a public body is authorized to discuss in closed session does not permit a public body to hold a lengthy closed session discussion on matters outside the scope of the exceptions to the general requirement that public bodies must conduct public business openly. As a result, the PAC ordered the council to release that portion of the meeting recording that was not properly within the scope of the closed session exemption.

As we have seen previously, it is important for public bodies to limit the scope of their discussions in closed session to only those topics that are permissible under the OMA exemptions. Discussion of an employee's performance and evaluation is a proper topic of closed session. However, to the extent that discussion might lead to a discussion of impermissible topics (such as the evaluation process or scheduling), the PAC says that the public body must reconvene in open session to continue that discussion.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov and Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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