Court Rules that Final Board Action Requires a Public Recital that Includes the Key Terms of an Action Item
In a recent Illinois Appellate Court decision, the Court held that a public body was in violation of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) where the public body failed to include the key terms in its public recital approving two action items. In Kirk Allen and John Kraft v. the Clark County Park District Board of Commissioners, a park district board acted on two items by stating the following in its public recitals prior to approval: “Approval of the lease rates…entertain a motion” and “…accept the revised covenants.” No written materials were provided to the public prior to the meeting and the Board provided no further explanation to the public regarding the actions. Plaintiffs sued the Board, alleging that the actions did not satisfy Section 2(e) of the OMA, which provides the following:
Final 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.
The circuit court found in favor of the Board, but the Appellate Court reversed, finding that the Board’s public recitals were not sufficient and did not comply with Section 2(e) of the OMA. The Court acknowledged that Section 2(e) does not provide how specifically the public body must describe the “nature of the matter.” It further acknowledged its recent decision in Board of Education of Springfield School District No. 186 v. Attorney General of Illinois, (which we analyzed in an alert here), where the same Appellate Court held that the public recital requirement does not require that the public body provide a detailed explanation about the significance or impact of the proposed final action.Under the facts presented in this case, however, the Court held that the Board provided none of the “key terms” of the action items and, therefore, did not comply with the public recital requirements of the OMA. To emphasize its point, the Court raised the following questions:
The public was uninformed of what was being leased. Was it canoes? Was it camping equipment? Was it real property being developed into a housing subdivision? Who knows? Nor did the recital indicate who was leasing the property or for how long or how the Park District was going to be compensated.
In order to reconcile its holding in Springfield School District (a public recital does not require a detailed explanation) with its holding here (a public recital requires the inclusion of key terms), the Court provided the following guidance for public bodies: “The overarching concern is whether the recital sufficiently informed the public of the nature of the matter being considered.”
We should, however, have more guidance soon, as the Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Springfield School District case. In the meantime, for all actions, public bodies in their public recitals should provide enough information to reasonably inform the public of the action upon which a vote is taken. There is no need at this time, to state every or even the majority of terms contained in a contract or other action prior to voting.