In a recent decision, the Public Access Counselor (PAC) ruled that Western Illinois University Board of Trustees violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA) when it voted to terminate a faculty member in closed session. According to the decision, the Board of Trustees met in closed session to consider “personnel, legal, collective bargaining and other such issues as covered by Section 2.c of the Illinois Open Meetings Act with plans to reconvene in open session after the conclusion of the Executive Session.” While still in closed session, the Board moved to approve a recommendation that a faculty member be terminated. Although it discussed whether to take such action in open session, the Board ultimately voted to terminate the employment of the faculty member while in closed session. The Board then reconvened to open session, and did not mention the faculty’s termination while in open session.
By voting to terminate the employee during closed session and not informing the public of its proposed action prior to that vote, the PAC concluded that the University violated Section 2(e) of the OMA, which states that “[n]o final action may be taken at a closed meeting” and that “[f]inal 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.” To remedy the violation, the PAC directed the Board to include the employee’s termination on the agenda of its next available meeting (if termination by the Board was still sought), address the employee’s termination during open session, and provide the public with “an adequate explanation of the nature of its action before any vote on the termination.”
In another recent opinion, the PAC again concluded that a public body failed to adequately inform the public of its proposed action prior to the vote. Here, the PAC found that the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners violated the OMA by taking final action to increase admission fees to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry without providing public notice in its agenda that the Board would be considering that matter. According to the PAC’s opinion, the notice and the agenda for the Board’s Committee on Programs and Recreation, which met the same day as the Board of Commissioners meeting, stated that it would “consider the authorization to change the general admission fees for the [Museum and the Art Institute].” During that Committee meeting, the Committee moved to recommend that such action be adopted by the Board of Commissioners, and the Board subsequently approved the fee increase later that day. The Board’s meeting agenda where it took such action, however, only stated the agenda item “Communications and Reports: Committee on Programs and Recreation.” The PAC found this description did not adequately suggest that the Board might consider taking final action with respect to the admission fees.
The PAC accordingly found that the Board violated Section 2.02(c), which was recently amended to state that “any agenda required under this Section shall set forth the general subject matter of any resolution or ordinance that will be the subject of final action at the meeting.” According to the PAC, the Board’s general description regarding the Committee did not generally or specifically reflect that the subject matter of admission fees for the museums would be discussed or acted upon by the Board, and thus violated the OMA. As such, the PAC directed the Board to reconsider its final action at a properly noticed meeting for which the agenda specifically references the subject of admission fee increases.
Both PAC decisions serve as reminders for public institutions and bodies to carefully review Board agendas to ensure that they sufficiently reflect any anticipated actions by the Board.