In a recent binding opinion, the Public Access Counselor division of the Illinois Attorney General (PAC) held that a rule requiring that a person provide advance notice of his or her intention to record an open meeting was invalid under the Illinois Open Meetings Act  (OMA). 

A party to a property tax hearing before the Lake County Board of Review requested advance permission to record a hearing and was advised that the Sheriff was responsible for regulating the recording of meetings.  The party then contacted the Sheriff and was granted permission to record the hearing.  On the day of the hearing, the Board did not allow the party to record the hearing because he had not obtained advance permission from the Board Clerk, as required under a Board rule. 

The party then filed a Request for Review with the Attorney General alleging that he was prohibited from recording an open meeting in violation of the OMA.  Section 2.05 of the OMA provides that:  

Any person may record the proceedings at meetings required to be open by this Act by tape, film, or other means.  The authority holding the meeting shall prescribe reasonable rules to govern the right to make such recordings.

The OMA does not define the term “reasonable rules” nor do any reported court decisions address the meaning of this term.  In a prior opinion, the PAC considered the meaning of the term “reasonable rules” and concluded that the term includes “rules or guidelines which protect the integrity of a public meeting and those participating in it or the safety of those attending a public meeting.”

Applying this standard to the Board’s rule, the PAC concluded that the rule placed a burden on people who wanted to exercise the right to record and resulted in restricting the ability to record open meetings.  Further, the PAC found that the Board failed to establish that the rule was necessary to protect the integrity of a public meeting or the safety of those attending the meeting.  Thus, the PAC held that the Board’s rule violated the OMA.

This opinion demonstrates that rules regulating the ability of the public to record open meetings are disfavored and will not be upheld unless the rule promotes the integrity of the public meeting or the safety of the participants.