The Illinois Open Meetings Act (“OMA”) was passed in order to guarantee that the public be informed of how Government Bodies are conducting their business. The OMA explicitly states that the public be given requisite notice of meetings and their agendas and be informed of the content of the resolutions and ordinances each public body deliberates on prior to a final binding vote.
Section 2.02 of the OMA states:
Any agenda required under this Section shall set forth the general subject matter of any resolution or ordinance that will be the subject of final action at the meeting. The public body conducting a public meeting shall ensure that at least one copy of any requested notice and agenda for the meeting is continuously available for public review during the entire 48-hour period preceding the meeting.
Recently, several Governmental Bodies and Boards have run afoul of this provision by failing to either post their meeting Agenda 48 hours prior to the meeting or failing to adequately set forth the general subject matter of an agenda item. Government Bodies run into issues when it comes to understanding the scope of the term “general subject matter.”
The Supreme Court of Illinois has, thus far, strayed away from specifically defining what “general subject matter” actually means. Earlier this year, Attorney General Kwame Raoul issued a Public Access Opinion in reply to a Request for Review of a Final Action taken by a school board. The board’s meeting agenda indicated that the board would adjourn to a closed session to discuss the “appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees of the public body[.]”
The board went into a closed session, discussed a severance package for a public employee, and then voted to approve the severance package in the Open Session. The Open Session agenda item was listed as “Personnel Transaction Report II,” which consisted of the voted upon severance agreement of the school’s assistant superintendent. According to Attorney General Raoul, the board’s vote on this vague resolution did not comply with the purpose and spirit of the OMA.
Raoul stated that, “At a minimum Section 2.02(c) required the Board’s agenda to have notified he public of the general category of employee (for example, administrators, teachers, or bus drivers) and general type of personnel transaction at issue…[S]ection 2.02(c) does not require the agenda to identify the subject of possible final employment action by name.” Attorney General Kwame Raoul. Public Access Opinion 23-004, March 27, 2023.
While the board was not required to explicitly identify the assistant superintendent by name, it was required to notify the public that they would be discussing, and potentially voting, on this employee’s future work with the school. Giving a vague title of “Personnel Transaction Report II” did not comply with the OMA. The Attorney General ordered that the board give the proper notice and description, and then re-vote on the severance package in a more open fashion. Further, the AG’s Office stated that the board is “directed to identify on future meeting agendas the general type of employee and general type of personnel transaction to be completed when it wishes to approve a personnel transaction.” Id.
For any Governmental Body, it would be best practice to follow the contents of PAC 23-004 in order to keep in compliance with the OMA. Should you have any questions regarding this ruling and how it may affect your organization, or if you require assistance with a local government legal issue, please contact the Airdo Werwas, LLC, attorney with whom you regularly work with.