June 16, 2010
The Illinois Open Meetings Act, 5 ILCS 120, was originally enacted in 1957 and sets forth the rules and regulations for public meetings of governmental bodies across the state of Illinois. The policy behind this act is that “…the people have a right to be informed as to the conduct of...” local and state government. Open deliberation and action are cornerstones of the Open Meetings Act requirements, along with good faith efforts to ensure convenient access to meetings for all members of the public.
Who must comply with the Open Meetings Act?
“All meetings of public bodies…” are covered by the act. This includes legislative, executive, administrative or advisory bodies of the state, counties, townships, cities, villages, incorporated towns, school districts and all other municipal corporations, boards, bureaus, committees or commissions of this State. Subsidiary bodies of the aforementioned governments are included under the Act.
The definition of public body does exempt the Illinois Child Death Review Teams Executive Council and the ethics commission established under the State Officials and Employee Ethics Act.
The Illinois Senate and House of Representatives, along with legislative committees and commissions, are not covered under this act. However, the Illinois Constitution requires that General Assembly sessions, committee meetings and legislative commissions be open to the public. Closed sessions can be held if two-thirds of members elected to a house vote to close their sessions. For joint committees or legislative commissioners, two-thirds of members elected to each house must vote to close the meeting.
What meetings are exempted from the Open Meetings Act?
There are 24 specific exceptions to the Open Meetings Act. They can be grouped under the following headings:
- School; and
A meeting may be closed to discuss negotiating response during collective bargaining negotiations, salary schedules for classes of employees or discipline matters pertaining to specific employees. Probable or imminent litigation matters, along with the purchase or lease of real property for the public body, may also be discussed in a closed meeting. Responses to an actual, threatened or reasonably potential danger may be discussed in a closed session. Public schools can close a meeting to discuss student disciplinary cases and other matters relating to individual students, including placement in special education programs.
State statute may expressly require or authorize a public meeting to be closed. Examples are the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act and the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. Both say the Open Meetings Act does not apply to collective bargaining negotiations and grievance arbitrations conducted under these acts.
What notice is required for compliance with the Open Meetings Act?
The Act sets forth requirements for notifying the public of the meetings. At the beginning of each year the public body must give notice of the schedule of regular open and closed meetings. Throughout the year, an agenda for each meeting must be posted 48 hours in advance of each meeting. The agenda requirement does not require that new items be placed on the agenda 48 hours prior to the meeting. However, while new agenda items can be deliberated and discussed without 48 hour notice, the public body cannot take action on the new item.
What are the consequences of failure to comply?
According to the Illinois Attorney General, violation of the Act is both a civil and criminal offense. Any person or State’s Attorney can bring a civil action for non-compliance with the Act within 60 days of the violation or within 60 days of discovering the violation. Allegations of a criminal violation of the Act must be brought by a State’s Attorney and are punishable by a fine up to $1500 and imprisonment for up to 30 days.
How to report non-compliance?
The Public Access Counselor resolves disputes when it is alleged that a public body has violated the Open Meetings Act. The position is a permanent part of the Office of the Attorney General and the contact information for the current counselor can be found by clicking here.