Local Government

Open Meetings Act reform awaiting Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's action

A good-government bill inspired by the Oakwood Hills Village Board’s closed-session handling of a power plant proposal is awaiting action by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

House Bill 175, which will give people a larger window to report potential violations of the Illinois Open Meetings Act to the Illinois Attorney General’s public-access office, was sent to Rauner’s desk at the end of June, about a month after it unanimously cleared the House and Senate.

The bill, filed by state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, extends the reporting time to within 60 days of discovery, rather than 60 days from the date of the meeting in question. Because public bodies typically don’t even approve and release their minutes until 30 days after the meeting, the current system leaves little to no time for alleged violations to be discovered, let alone reported.

McSweeney filed the legislation in response to a potentially illegal and private July 2013 meeting of the Oakwood Hills Village Board, during which members discussed a potential monetary windfall that would come from building a $450 million power plant. Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, carried the legislation in the Senate – both lawmakers represent Oakwood Hills and both opposed the project and the village government’s handling of it.

The Open Meetings Act, which not only requires advance notice of meetings but also limits what can be discussed in closed session without public scrutiny, contains no exemption that covers such a topic.

The 2013 meeting wasn’t a matter of public knowledge until a year later, when documentation of it was discovered by Steven Cuda, the attorney hired by residents to oppose the now-abandoned project. A complaint could not be filed with the public access office – which has binding authority to enforce open-government laws and punish offenders – because the deadline for doing so under current law had long since passed.

Rauner has three options under the Illinois Constitution: sign the bill into law, veto it, or do nothing with it and let it automatically become law 60 days after he received it.

The law will not be retroactive, and will not apply to meetings that took place before its effective date.

State Rep. David McSweeney will be participating in a live chat on the state budget at noon Thursday, July 16, on www.NWHerald.com.

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