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Friday, December 17, 2021

PAC Finds In Favor of Public Body in Challenge to Remote Meeting

The Public Access Counselor of the Illinois Attorney General's office (PAC) just issued a binding opinion finding no OMA violation where a public body conducted its meeting remotely via Zoom. PAC Op. 21-011.

In September, a school board conducted its board meeting via Zoom, with no in-person attendance by the public. The board heard public comment, and one member of the public objected during public comment to the board's decision to hold the meeting remotely. After the meeting, that member of the public filed a request for review with the PAC alleging that the board's decision to hold the meeting remotely violated the OMA. She argued that the board's rationale for holding the meeting remotely (because of the COVID-19 pandemic) was a pretext to avoid having members of the public attend the meeting in-person, particularly since the board had conducted its previous meeting in-person.

The board filed a response to the request for review with the PAC, explaining that the board followed the process set out in section 7(e) of the OMA for conducting a remote meeting while the Governor's disaster proclamation was still in effect. The board referenced language that it had placed on its meeting agenda that explained that the meeting would be held remotely because of the pandemic. The board also explained that at the board's August meeting, there were a number of people in attendance who refused to comply with the mask requirement, which also disrupted the board's meeting when they refused to either put on a mask or leave the meeting. 

The PAC reviewed the recording of the board's August and September meetings, as well as the board's September agenda and explanation in its response. First, the PAC found that the board followed the requirements of 7(e) of the OMA in conducting the remote meeting because (1) the Governor's disaster proclamation is still in effect, (2) the board president made a determination that it was not practical or prudent to hold an in-person meeting due to the pandemic, and (3) the board provided access to the public through the Zoom platform. Second, the PAC noted that the person who filed the complaint was allowed to participate in the September remote meeting via Zoom and, in fact, spoke during public comment at that meeting. The PAC also noted that it was within the board's discretion to decide not to hold an in-person meeting given the disruptive noncompliance with the mask requirement by numerous members of the public at the board's previous meeting, so long as the board followed the OMA requirements.

This opinion provides very helpful guidance to public bodies in complying with section 7(e) of OMA that authorizes remote meetings while the Governor's COVID-19 disaster proclamation is in effect.


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