Local Government

AG: McHenry County Board member's telecommuting not Open Meetings Act violation

WOODSTOCK – Allowing a McHenry County Board member who winters in Florida for medical reasons to participate in meetings by phone does not violate the Open Meetings Act, the Attorney General’s Office has ruled.

In a four-page opinion, its Public Access Bureau ruled that the County Board is within its rights to allow member John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, to participate remotely during the winter months. Questions about whether Hammerand’s annual absence is more of a vacation than for legitimate illness created a confusing situation in which board members allowed him to participate in one meeting, but voted against it the next.

But while the ruling reassures those who voted no because they worried about violating the act, it does not state that board members violated the act on the occasions that they denied Hammerand attendance.

The law allows a public body that has established remote attendance rules to vote to allow it in the event of personal illness or disability, a family or other emergency, or for employment reasons or being away on the public body’s business. That body must have a set of rules governing voting to allow it, which the County Board does – the rules in effect at the time allowed remote participation if a member had a disability recognized by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Hammerand, one of the board’s longest-serving members, has spent winters in warmer climates because his doctor says he is susceptible to respiratory illnesses with prolonged exposure to cold,” but this winter was the first time in years that he attempted to phone in to attend meetings. Board members declined permission for him to attend remotely on Jan. 6, allowed him to attend the next three meetings remotely, but again denied him permission on March 3.

The Northwest Herald filed a request for review to the Public Access Bureau to clarify how the act should be interpreted. The newspaper did not allege that either Hammerand or the County Board were violating the act, but sought to end the practice of a transparency law being interpreted opposite ways from meeting to meeting.

Hammerand, one of the County Board’s most vocal limited-government fiscal hawks. has alleged that his often unpopular stances on issues has motivated some of the votes against his ability to participate remotely.

What it means

The McHenry County Board was not violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act when it voted to allow member John Hammerand to participate by phone from Florida, the Attorney General’s Office has ruled.

Online

Visit foia.ilattorneygeneral.net to learn more about the Illinois Open Meetings and Freedom of Information acts.

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