PAC Issues Binding Decision Regarding OMA Related to Closed Session Discussions
The Illinois Public Access Counselor (PAC) recently issued a binding decision, PAC 22-012, regarding the Open Meetings Act (OMA), finding that a board of education’s closed session discussions violated the OMA at separate meetings.
At issue were the Board’s closed session discussions regarding the building of a new school, funding for that school via COVID-19 relief funds, and a potential legislative waiver of the statutory referendum requirement to build the school. To discuss those items in closed session, the Board utilized Section 2(c)(5) of the OMA, which allows closed meetings for the purpose of discussing the purchase or lease of property. In the Request for Review before the PAC, the complainant argued that the Board exceeded the scope of Section 2(c)(5) of the OMA by discussing the matters described above, arguing that such topics were independent of a decision to purchase property for a new school building.
In support of its position, the Board unsuccessfully argued that closed session discussion of the building of a new school, funding for that school via COVID-19 relief funds, and a potential legislative waiver of the statutory referendum requirement were essential to develop its strategy regarding which properties to potentially acquire. The PAC was not persuaded. According to the PAC, Illinois law only supports closed session discussion of items that are pertinent to the legally recognized closed session topic. Here, the discussions ancillary to the direct discussion of property acquisition were improper. The PAC deemed the decisions independent and not pertinent to the Board’s discussion regarding acquiring real property. Further, those topics on their own were not permissible closed session topics.
To remedy the violation, the PAC required the Board to publicly release the portions of its closed session minutes and verbatim recordings that were not appropriately discussed in closed session.
This decision serves as a reminder that boards should remain deliberate when partaking in closed session discussions and ensure that discussions are directly pertinent to the specific OMA closed session exception. If you have any questions regarding this alert or the OMA, please reach out to one of the authors of this post or any Franczek attorney.