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Monday, November 30, 2020

PAC Interprets New Remote Meeting Procedures of OMA in Binding Opinion

It's been 4 months since the PAC issued a binding opinion, but on November 24th, the PAC issued its seventh binding opinion of 2020 finding a public body in violation of the Open Meetings Act in PAC Op. 2020-07 because it muted a portion of its "remote" village board meeting.

This summer, the Illinois General Assembly amended the OMA (effective June 12, 2020) to add a new remote meeting procedure that authorizes public bodies to meet electronically, subject to following certain statutory procedures. We have previously summarized that new law on the blog. Many public bodies across the state have conducted their meeting business electronically, via various platforms, including Zoom. 

In September, a village board held a village board meeting using the Zoom platform. A member of the public in attendance at the village board meeting filed a request for review with the Public Access Counselor claiming that the board violated the OMA when it "muted" a portion of the meeting for a "sidebar" discussion between the village president and village clerk tht lasted about 60 seconds. He also claimed the village board was in violation of the OMA because it did not allow members of the public to physically attend the meeting at village hall.  

The PAC found the village board in violation of the OMA for muting the "sidebar" discussion between the village president and the village clerk. Although the PAC acknowledged that there is nothing that would prohibite a similar "sidebar" discussion at an in-person meeting, the PAC noted that the new remote meeting procedures of the OMA expressly require a public body to ensure that "any interested member of the public" can "contemporaneously hear all discussion, testimony, and roll call votes." By muting a portion of the meeting for the "sidebar," the public body violated this particular provision because members of the public could not hear that discussion. 

However, the PAC did not find the village board in violation of the OMA for not allowing the public to be present at village hall for the meeting. The PAC noted that the village board live-streamed its board meeting via Zoom, which was accessible to the public. These "alternative arrangements" for the public to attend the meeting satisfied the OMA because (1) the Governor had issued a disaster proclamation that was effective during the meeting and (2) the mayor had determined that full in-person meetings of the public body were not practical or prudent in light of the ongoing pandemic. 


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