Local Government

Oakwood Hills-inspired Open Meetings Act reform one step from gov's desk

A formality vote by the House this weekend will get an Open Meetings Act reform inspired by the Oakwood Hills power plant debacle sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk.

The Illinois Senate on Friday afternoon voted, 57-0, to approve House Bill 175, which extends the amount of time that people have to report possible violations of the act to the attorney general’s public access counselor. But the bill has to return to the House for a concurrence vote because the Senate strengthened language clarifying that the new time limit cannot be applied to meetings that took place prior to the law taking effect.

The change extends the reporting time for alleged violations to 60 days of discovery, rather than 60 days from the date of the meeting in question. It has a two-year statute of limitations.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, filed the legislation in response to what was potentially an illegal July 2013 meeting by the Oakwood Hills Village Board in which members privately discussed the monetary windfall that would come from building a 430-megawatt, $450 million power plant in the small town. The Open Meetings Act. which among other things limits what governments can debate behind closed doors, does not contain an exemption that covers such a discussion.

But the questionable discussion was not public knowledge until a year later, when it was discovered by the attorney hired by village residents who were opposed to the now-scuttled project. A complaint could not be filed with the public access counselor, who has binding authority to enforce open-government laws and impose corrective action on violators, because the window under current law of 60 days from the actual meeting had long since passed.

The House approved the change in March on a 110-0 vote, and Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, carried the legislation in the Senate. But the bill was sent to a subcommittee in April, which is typically a sign that lawmakers did not intend to pass it. However, Senate President John Cullerton ended the impasse in this final week of session and asked for the bill to move forward. Duffy credited McSweeney for urging Cullerton to advance the legislation.

Oakwood Hills is in McSweeney’s and Duffy’s districts.

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