The Illinois Supreme Court recently affirmed the decisions of the lower courts, which had overturned a Public Access Counselor opinion, in Board of Education of Springfield School District No. 186 v. the Attorney General of Illinois. The case examines the level of detail required by the Open Meetings Act (OMA) in a public body’s public recital prior to taking final action. The Court concluded that “the recital must announce the nature of the matter under consideration, with sufficient detail to identify the particular transaction or issue, but need not provide an explanation of its terms of its significance.”
The case arises out of the board’s approval of a separation agreement with the former superintendent. The board considered and signed, but did not date, the agreement in closed session at its February 4, 2013 meeting. The board then voted in open session at its March 5, 2013 meeting to enter into the agreement. The agenda for the March meeting stated “Approval of a Resolution regarding the Separation Agreement and Release between Superintendent Dr. Walter Milton and the Board of Education.” The same language was used in the Board’s motion to introduce the issue for a vote at the meeting.
Section 2(e) of the OMA provides that “Final action shall be preceded by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and other information that will inform the public of the business being conducted.” The PAC found that the board violated this provision because the information provided prior to the vote, according to the PAC, was vague, did not identify the terms of the agreement, and did not explain the significance of the action. The circuit court reversed the PAC’s decision (see alert) and the appellate court affirmed the circuit court (see alert).
The appellate court also recently addressed this issue in another case, Kirk Allen and John Kraft v. the Clark County Park District Board of Commissioners (see alert). In that case, the board’s public recital was limited to “approval of the lease rates” and to “accept the revised covenants.” The court there found that the recital failed to provide the public with sufficient information as it did not even identify what was being leased. The court determined that the public recital requires inclusion of key terms.
The Illinois Supreme Court, after careful consideration of the language of the statute, the legislative intent, and the precedent cases, found the Springfield Board’s recitation was adequate as it provided sufficient detail to identify the particular transaction. Also of note is the Court’s determination that although final action must occur through a vote in open session, a board can reach consensus and take a preliminary vote in closed session. Public bodies should thus ensure that their public recitals provide enough information to inform the public of the action upon which the vote is taken, but need not explain the terms, reasons, or impact of the action.