State rep. proposes Open Meetings Act violation law after Oakwood Hills power plant controversy

State Rep. David McSweeney has proposed legislation that would give another option for the Attorney General's office to look into possible violations of the Open Meetings Act.

Currently, Illinois state law says if someone believes there is a violation of the open meetings act, he needs to file a request for review within 60 days of the alleged violation. The problem is that because of laws regarding when public bodies must disclose their closed session minutes, it's difficult to suspect when a violation took place.

McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, is proposing that if the alleged violation isn't discovered within the initial 60-day period, someone can request for a review 60 days after the discovery of the alleged violation.

The proposal comes after an attorney for those against a proposed 430-megawatt, $450 million power plant in Oakwood Hills discovered members of that Village Board had discussed the proposal in closed session in July 2013, nearly a year before the plant proposal became public.

"It's clear there was a violation with the Open Meetings Act in this case," McSweeney said.

Former Village President Melanie Funk denied doing anything wrong when she resigned from her position.

Government units have to review and potentially release closed-session minutes only twice a year, which means minutes aren’t always released within the 60-day time period.

Last year, the Attorney General's Office had 387 requests to review possible violations to the Opens Meetings Act. In 2012, it had 288 requests.

Attorney General Communications Director Natalie Bauer said violations run the gamut.

"Often times is has been in the past a public body wasn't familiar with a certain portion of the statute," Bauer said. "That's why we instituted mandatory training."

If it is determined there was a violation of the Open Meetings Act, the public body might have to redo the meeting where the violation took place, have an injunction put against it to prevent future violations, make the minutes of a closed meeting public, or have action declared null and void.

McSweeney filed the bill on Friday. State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, and State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, have signed on as co-sponsors.

McSweeney said he filed the bill directly in response to Oakwood Hills situation. He also has opposed the proposed plant.

"The public should have the right to seek remedies after it's exposed, in this case almost a year later," McSweeney said.

He added that each violation is different.

"I'm concerned this is happening more than is reported," McSweeney said.

McSweeney said there is a chance the bill is considered during the upcoming veto session. If it's not, there's a chance the bill can be considered during a January lame-duck session. McSweeney added that he can reintroduce the legislation during the next session.

"I will push it as quickly as we can," McSweeney said.

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