Two New PAC Opinions Provide Clarification to School Districts on Meeting Agendas and Redacting Information from FOIA Responses
August 8, 2017
By Erin Fowler
Recently, the Illinois Public Access Counselor (PAC) issued two opinions – one advisory and one binding – that reiterate the requirements of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Final Action on an Agenda Item:
In an advisory opinion, the PAC found that a public body was in compliance with the OMA when it took final action on an agenda item that stated: “Recommendation for Appointments.” Although the agenda did not indicate the names, offices, or terms for the appointments, the PAC found that the public body satisfied Section 2.02(c) of the OMA, which requires that public bodies provide at least the general subject matter of items to be addressed at the public meeting. In reaching this conclusion, the PAC provided two pearls of wisdom for public bodies. First, as long as the agenda allows a community member to follow along with what items will be acted on, the agenda will likely meet the general subject matter standard. Second, because a public body must list the agenda items on which it intends to take final action 48 hours before the public meeting, the OMA presumes that any such agenda item is subject to final action even if the description of the item does not evidence such an intent.
Employee Names on Payroll Records Aare Not Considered Highly Personal Information:
In a binding opinion, the PAC found a public body in violation of FOIA when it responded to a union FOIA request for payroll records by redacting employee names, addresses, social security numbers, and drivers’ license numbers. As an initial matter, the PAC found that the employee names should not have been redacted because the statute governing redaction of payroll records only provides for the redaction of employee addresses, telephone numbers, and social security numbers. Because the statute did not provide for the redaction of employee names and because employee names are not considered highly personal information, the employer was required to produce records showing employee names.
Second, the PAC reminded public bodies that responding to a FOIA request with redacted information serves as a partial denial of the request. Because FOIA requires a public body to provide an explanation for each denial, a public body must: (1) cite to the provision of FOIA authorizing any redaction it makes; (2) provide a detailed basis for why the provision is applicable; and (3) notify the requesting party of its right to appeal the public body’s decision.