The PAC recently issued a binding opinion ruling against a local village board for failing to provide proper notice and state a valid exception to enter closed session in violation of the Open Meetings Act (OMA).
In PAC opinion 15-005, a local village board went into closed session during its May 4, 2015 board meeting in order to hear a presentation from a representative of the Sheriff’s Office regarding a proposed contract between the County and the Village for police services. During closed session, the board also discussed the details of the proposed contract. Thereafter, the board faced allegations that during its May 4, 2015 board meeting, it voted to disband the village police department without any advance notice to the public and without listing the topic in the agenda to be voted on. In response to these allegations, the board asserted that “Executive Session” (the equivalent to closed session) was posted on the agenda and that during open session, it voted to enter executive session for the purpose of discussing personnel. The board added that the OMA allows public bodies to enter executive session to discuss personnel.
After reviewing the board minutes along with the response provided by the board, the PAC found that the village board violated the OMA for multiple reasons. First, the PAC cited Section 2(a) of the OMA (5 ILCS 120/2(a)), which requires the board to publicly disclose the specific exception that authorizes the board to enter closed session. Looking at the board minutes, the PAC found that the board did not cite a reason for its vote to enter closed session nor did the minutes include a reference to a specific exception in Section 2 of the OMA authorizing the board to hold a closed session. The agenda was also missing a general description of the subject to be discussed in closed session. As such, the PAC found the board violated Section 2 of the OMA by not publicly disclosing, recording, and entering into the minutes the specific exception authorizing the closing of a portion of the May 4, 2015 meeting.
The PAC went a step further in reviewing the board’s action in light of Section 2(c)(1) of the OMA (5 ILCS 120/2(c)(1)), which allows a public body to “enter closed session to discuss the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees of the public body.” The PAC held that even if the board had cited to this exception under the OMA, it would not be valid because the closed session concerned a proposed contract with another public body rather than a personnel decision regarding a specific employee or employees of the village. The PAC noted that some public bodies frequently and inappropriately use the term “personnel” as a reference to this section. The PAC reiterated that this section does not provide a broad exception for discussions that might impact personnel but rather discussions that directly involve and/or impact specific employees, such as hearing testimony regarding a complaint against an employee of that public body.
Lastly, the PAC turned to the issue of the board’s agenda, noting that Section 2.02(c) of the OMA (5 ILCS 120/2.02(c)) requires agendas of public bodies to set forth the general subject matter of any resolution or ordinance that will be the subject of final action at the meeting. During the May 4, 2015 meeting, the board voted on the approval of a police services contract with the Sheriff’s Office. However, the agenda did not contain any specific reference to the contract, or any reference to police services for the village. The only reference to the discussion and eventual vote on a contract for police services was the item titled “Executive Session” on the agenda. Because the agenda did not provide advance notice to the public that the board was to take final action on a potential change in police services for the village, the PAC held that the board violated Section 2.02(c) of the OMA. Going forward, public bodies should ensure that the basis for entering closed session is appropriate and that proper notice is provided to the public in accordance with the OMA.