Attorney General Finds that Board of Education Violated the Open Meetings Act by Holding a Meeting in a Private Residence

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[author: Maria Mazza]

In a recent binding Public Access Counselor Opinion, the Attorney General held that a board of education violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA) by holding a meeting at a private residence.

On November 30, 2011, the Board of Education of Whiteside School District No. 115, held a special meeting at the Whiteside Middle School to determine the District’s proposed 2011 tax levy. Because the Board determined that the 2011 levy would exceed 105% of the 2010 levy, the Board initially scheduled a hearing for December 15, 2011, as required by the Property Tax Code. However, because Section 18-60 of the Property Tax Code provides that a taxing district cannot adopt its levy less than 20 days after it estimated its levy, the Board re-scheduled the meeting for December 21, 2011. The Board scheduled the meeting at the home of the superintendent because the school was closed and provided notice of the location of the meeting on the District’s website, the District’s office, and at the Whiteside Middle School.

On December 21, 2011, the meeting went forward and the Board adopted the levy. Subsequently, a party submitted a request for review with the Attorney General’s Public Access Bureau alleging that the Board improperly met at a private residence outside the District’s boundaries and challenging the legality of the Board’s adoption of the 2011 tax levy.

Section 2.01 of the OMA provides that all meetings required to be open to the public shall be held at specified times and places which are convenient and open to the public. Court decisions have held that a meeting is open when no one is prohibited from attending. In contrast, meetings may not be held in such an ill-suited, unaccommodating place that the public would be deterred from attending.

The Attorney General concluded that the fact that the meeting was held in a private residence could reasonably be expected to deter the public from attending the meeting because the public may have felt uncomfortable going to the superintendent’s home. Thus, the Attorney General held that the superintendent’s home was ill-suited for a public meeting.

The Attorney General also noted that the Board had not established that there were no other options at its disposal. The Board could have requested that the building be opened or held the meeting at another public location or rescheduled the meeting.

Although the Attorney General did not take the further step of declaring that the levy was illegal, the Attorney General’s opinion makes clear that public meetings must take place at a convenient public location.