An Illinois Circuit Court recently overturned a Public Access Counselor opinion. The Court held, contrary to the PAC, that the Board of Education of Springfield School District No. 186 did not violate Section 2(e) of the Open Meetings Act (OMA).
The original dispute arose out of a resolution that was to be passed regarding a separation agreement between the Board and their former superintendent. The PAC opined that the Board’s public recitation regarding approval of the separation agreement at the March 5, 2013 open session violated the OMA because it failed to adequately inform the public of the nature of the matter under consideration.
During that open session meeting on March 5, the Board’s public recitation included both a reference to the resolution regarding the separation agreement, as well as a recommendation that the Board vote to approve the separation agreement with the former superintendent.
Section 2(e) of the OMA provides that “Final action shall be preceded by a public recitation of the nature of the matter being considered and other information that will inform the public of the business being conducted.” The PAC opinion held that this language should be construed to mean that the public body is required to provide an explanation of the significance of the action to be taken and according to the PAC, the Board failed to do so. Specifically, the PAC noted that in order to be in compliance with Section 2(e) of the OMA, the Board should have at least provided a summary of the key terms of the agreement, including the lump sum to be paid to the former superintendent.
On appeal, the Springfield Circuit Court found that the PAC significantly expanded the requirements of the OMA by requiring that the Board explain the significance of the final action to be taken. The Court held that all that is required is for a public body to advise of the nature of the final action, a far less detailed requirement. In coming to this conclusion, the Court noted that the Board posted the separation agreement (including a lump sum to be paid to the former superintendent) for the public to view five days prior to the March 5 meeting in addition to satisfying the requirements of Section 2(e) of the OMA. As a result, the Board’s final action at the March 5 meeting was sustained.