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Our View: Close Open Meetings Act loophole

Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

A loophole in Illinois’ Open Meetings Act allows governing bodies to break the law with no consequence.

That must change.

The Northwest Herald was made aware of the loophole last week when the Illinois Attorney General’s Office said it did not have the authority to review Prairie Grove School District 46’s closed-session minutes because there is a 60-day window from when a possible Open Meetings Act violation occurred to when a request for review can be made.

Because government units have to review and release closed-session minutes only twice a year, those release dates mean minutes aren’t always released within that 60-day time period, essentially allowing government to break the law – knowingly or unknowingly.

“Unless you have someone on the inside who blows the whistle, it’s not very helpful,” said Maryam Judar, the executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center.

In District 46’s case, it met behind closed doors nine times from Nov. 13 to April 23, and the minutes for six of those closed sessions were released at a board meeting in June.

Based on the minutes, it appears that the school board violated the Open Meetings Act by discussing in closed session what should have been public policy decisions. Topics discussed included the reorganization of district positions and changes in the junior high’s master schedule in light of declining enrollment and teacher retirements.

Public bodies can go behind closed doors to discuss appointments, employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employees under the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Reorganizing a position or deciding whether to fill a vacancy do not fall into those categories, Illinois Press Association Attorney Don Craven said.

Because of the Open Meetings Act loophole, we’ll never know whether District 46’s closed sessions were lawful.

The Open Meetings Act must be corrected to fix this. The law must be changed to either remove the 60-day cap or to start the 60-day clock after the governing body releases the closed-session minutes.

To keep this loophole open and allow governments to break the law behind closed doors without consequence is unacceptable.

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