Recently, the PAC issued its fourth binding opinion of 2019, finding a public body in violation of the Open Meetings Act for failure to provide an adequate public recital of the business being conducted before taking final action on a resolution. PAC Op. 19-004.
On January 28, 2019, at a Pinckneyville school district board meeting, the board voted on “Resolution 2019-1 authorizing a Notice to Remedy.” Shortly thereafter, a newspaper reporter filed a complaint with the PAC arguing that the board did not give any public details about the resolution prior to voting on it. The PAC contacted the school board for a response, and the school board provided copies of the agenda, minutes, closed session recording, resolution, and the “Notice to Remedy.” The school board attorney explained to the PAC that the resolution number and title were read aloud prior to the board voting on the resolution, as reflected in the minutes of the meeting.
In analyzing the complaint, the PAC acknowledged that the Illinois Supreme Court had issued an opinion holding that the “public recital” requirement of the OMA does not require the board to explain the terms or significance of the item being voted on but must announce the nature of the matter. Bd. of Ed. of Springfield Sch. Dist. No. 186 v. Attorney General. You may recall that we reported on that Illinois Supreme Court decision previously. Nevertheless, the PAC found that in this case, the school board violated the OMA because it failed to disclose enough detail about the resolution prior to voting on it, including disclosing the name of the teacher being served with the Notice to Remedy).
It is difficult to square this opinion with the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling in the Springfield case. In overturning an earlier PAC opinion that a Springfield school district must engage in discussion and disclose the terms and details of a matter prior to voting on it, the Supreme Court made it clear that “public recital” does not require some level of detail or a summary of the events leading up to the vote. Nor does it require the public body to explain the significance of the action. Instead, it requires the public body to “state the essence of the matter under consideration, its character, or its identity.” In the case at issue in PAC Op. 19-004, the Pinckneyville board identified the matter being approved (a resolution), and the character or nature of the resolution (to approve a Notice to Remedy). Nowhere in the Supreme Court’s ruling does it seem to require disclosure of the employee’s name to satisfy the “public recital” requirement of the OMA. The apparent inconsistency between the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling in the Springfield case and the PAC’s opinion in PAC Op. 19-004 makes it difficult for public bodies to understand what type of detail the board must go into prior to taking a vote.
Since this is a binding opinion, it can be appealed by the Pinckneyville school board – we will keep you posted if this case goes any further.