Most of the worst government decisions take place behind closed doors, where the public is not only not consulted, but it isn’t even aware of what the issues are.
This is the common-sense notion behind the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The act is the legal framework for the principle that the public’s business should be conducted in public, even though from the point of view of some public officials, the public is opinionated, pesky and sometimes downright hostile.
Reporter Emily Coleman recently examined executive session minutes from Prairie Grove School District 46 and learned that the school board was discussing matters that obviously should have been discussed in open session.
Those discussions included junior high scheduling changes because of declining enrollment and teacher retirements and reorganizing district positions.
District Superintendent Lynette Zimmer said in an email that the discussions fell under Open Meetings Act exemptions for employment. She would not answer follow-up questions, although we have some. We’ve asked the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor to investigate.
While public bodies may discuss specific employee matters, including dismissal, termination or compensation, in closed session, they may not discuss the broader issues of district schedules or the restructuring of staff. Lumping those discussions together might be convenient, but that doesn’t make it legal.
We’ll occasionally examine the executive session minutes of other taxing bodies and expect to find other examples. Such violations often are conducted by boards that believe they know better than their constituents and that limiting information available to the public is best for everyone.
Elected officials who’d prefer to conduct taxpayer business in private don’t belong in public office.
We’d urge any member of a public body to assume at all times that their discussions belong in the public arena and to thoroughly question any reason for a closed session and to insist that the discussion be very limited to a very specific exemption of the Open Meetings Act.