The Public Access Counselor of the Attorney General’s Office (PAC) recently found a public body in violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act for holding an improper meeting. PAC Op. 23-003.
A member of a library board of trustees filed a request for review with the PAC office alleging that the board president and two other trustees met to discuss various staffing, salary, and other issues of the public body without posting notice or complying with other OMA requirements. The board submitted a response to the PAC, arguing that the “Meet and Greet” that was attended by 3 members of the 7 member board of trustees as well as staff of the public body did not constitute a meeting under the OMA because it was an informal gathering for the board members to get to know the staff and to answer staff questions.
After reviewing the video recording of the “Meet and Greet,” the PAC determined that the gathering reflected more than a social gathering and involved a majority of a quorum of the board of trustees answering questions from staff about substantive public business. The PAC noted that there does not need to be formal action taken by the board for a gathering to constitute a “meeting” under the OMA, and the substantive discussions held by a majority of a quorum of this public body was sufficient for the “Meet and Greet” to qualify as a meeting. Because the board did not provide advance notice of the meeting as required by the OMA, the PAC found the board in violation of the OMA, and ordered the board to release the video recording of the meeting and to prepare and approve meeting minutes.
This opinion is an important reminder to Illinois public bodies that a “gathering” of a majority of a quorum of a public body does not need to involve formal action or a vote to qualify as a meeting under the OMA. As the PAC stated in its opinion:
The requirements of the OMA apply not only to those gatherings in which public bodies take formal actions, but also to discussions of public business for the purpose of collecting information.