Illinois PAC Issues Binding Decision Authorizing Remote Meetings Under the OMA
In a rare binding opinion, the Public Access Counselor (PAC)—the division of the Attorney General that reviews appeals regarding the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Meetings Act (OMA)—issued a new binding opinion clarifying remote meeting requirements under the OMA, finding that public bodies may still hold remote meetings.
At issue was a September 16, 2021 Board meeting held by Jersey Community Unit School District 100, which the Board held over Zoom with no in-person attendance by the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In her request for review, the community member argued that the Board had held in-person Board meetings in the past when COVID-19 infection rates were higher, so the Board’s intent in holding the September 16, 2021 meeting remotely was instead due to the Board’s desire to avoid in-person attendance and public comments.
The Board responded that it conducted a proper remote meeting under Section 7(e) of the FOIA, which sets forth the requirements for remote meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the Board stated that Illinois continued to be under a disaster proclamation related to public health, that an in-person meeting was not practical or prudent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the meeting was properly noticed and accessible to the public over Zoom. Further, the Board expressed that it had concerns over public health and safety following the prior board meeting, during which a member of the public had to be escorted from the room for refusing to abide by the mask requirement.
The PAC found that there was no indication that the Board’s determination to hold a remote meeting was for any reason other than concerns related to the pandemic. Further, the PAC determined that the Board appropriately met the requirements of Section 7(e) of the OMA—the Governor’s disaster proclamation related to COVID-19 was still in effect, the Board determined that it was not practical to hold an in-person meeting, and appropriate access was provided through Zoom. Importantly, the community member filing the request for review was also given the opportunity to participate in public comment over Zoom, and availed herself of that opportunity. The PAC therefore determined that the Board held an appropriate remote meeting and that the Board had discretion to decide whether in-person meetings were practical or prudent given prior noncompliance with masking requirements at prior meetings.
If you have questions regarding the OMA, please reach out to the authors of this post or any Franczek attorney.