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Monday, February 14, 2022

City Council's Remote Meeting in Violation of Open Meetings Act

The Illinois Attorney General's Public Access Counselor (PAC) issued two new binding opinions recently, one dealing with remote meetings under OMA and one dealing with FOIA. We are reporting on the OMA opinion in today's post where the PAC found a City Council in violation of OMA for its remote meeting practices. PAC Op. 22-003. The opinion provides some guidance to public bodies on how the PAC interprets the public notice requirements for remote or hybrid (meeting that allows remote and in-person attendance) meetings held under section 7(e) of the OMA. 

A member of the public filed a request for review with the PAC alleging that a City Council provided inadequate notice of a remote meeting held on January 11, 2022. She claimed that although an agenda was posted at City Hall indicating that the City Council would be meeting on Jnauary 11th via Zoom, the agenda did not include a Zoom or other web-based or telephone access link for the public to attend the remote meeting. When she had contacted the City to request the link, it was provided to her via text message; however, she said the link was not provided in a timely fashion and she missed a portion of the meeting. 

The City responded that the City provided the Zoom link to her and she did, in fact, attend and participate in the City Council meeting. The City also noted that members of the public were welcome to attend the meeting in-person. In response to follow up questions from the PAC, the City noted that although the Zoom link was not posted on the agenda/notice, members of the public could request the link. The City also noted that the City did not have an audio or video recording of the meeting. 

The PAC determined that the City Council's remote meeting on January 11th was not in compliance with the OMA for several reasons.

First, the PAC determined that section 7(e) of FOIA requires a public body to post the remote meeting access information on its website with the meeting notice/agenda at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting. In this case, the agenda did not include information as to how the public could access the Zoom meeting, so the City Council did not provide adequate advance notice of the remote meeting. The PAC stated that the remote access information should be provided and accessible to the public during the 48 hour period before the meeting, and the statute expressly requires that the information be posted on the public body's website. The PAC stated that the website posting requirement in 7(e) of the OMA does not distinguish between public bodies who maintain their own websites nor did that provision consider the size of the public body. 

Second, although the City informed the PAC that members of the public could have attended the meeting in-person, the PAC found that the agenda did not provide the public with sufficient information about in-person access. The "location" information on the agenda stated it would be a "Zoom Meeting."

Finally, the PAC stated that the City violated the OMA by not making a verbatim audio or video recording of the remote meeting as required by section 7(e)(9) of the OMA. 

The PAC directed the City to (1) include all remote access information in the meeting notice/agenda in the future; (2) specify on the agenda when in-person attendance is allowed at any remote/hybrid meeting; and (3) make and keep a verbatim audio or video recording of future remote meetings.


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