An Illinois Attorney General Public Access Counselor has ruled that the Piatt County board’s 9 a.m. meeting times are not in violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
Assistant Attorney General Matt Hartman also ruled in favor of the county in areas of agenda detail and its two-minute limit on public speaking, items that were questioned by the Citizen Participation Institute. The Winfield, Illinois-based charity had filed a Request for Review with the state on behalf of local resident Dave Oliger.
While the OMA states that governmental meetings be held at times that are “convenient and open to the public,” Hartman said appellate courts have ruled that the OMA implies reasonable access, “not absolute accessibility.” He noted that several other entities meet during the work day.
While the county board meets at 9 a.m. most months – it has scheduled two evening meetings in 2020 – the request also concerned meeting times for the zoning board of appeals (which usually meets at 1 p.m.) and Piatt County Mental Health Center board, which schedules 5 p.m. sessions.
The Institute also questioned whether the county should be required to give more detail on agenda items, such as naming a person who is being considered for an appointment. As an example, the Institute pointed to an appellate prosecutor and an animal control administrator that were approved by the board on Nov. 13.
The PAC ruled that, “although additional details would be helpful to better inform the public of the actions anticipated to be taken, section 2.02(c) only requires agendas to set forth the ‘general subject matter’ of those actions.”
As for a two-minute limit on members of the public to speak, Hartman said since the complaint “did not allege that any member of the public was improperly restricted from addressing the board,” he did not see evidence of a violation of the OMA, which states “any person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.”
But Citizen Partici-pation Executive Director Stan Zegel thinks the ruling leaves the door open for a future appeal, especially on the two-minute rule.
“When someone is actually cut off, then a complaint can be filed and perhaps the PAC will address the reasonableness of the two-minute rule,” he said. “There is also the question of whether these public bodies have actually formally adopted such rules, because they cannot enforce any rule that does not exist.”
The county had not enforced a two-minute time limit on public meetings on a consistent basis until it began limiting input on audience attendees last summer.
Even though the PAB ruled in the county’s favor, Zegel thinks they should still be questioned in order to improve access.
“The good news is that the public body and its officials are on notice that they are just inside the edge of the law. If the public is aware of that, they have a right to expect their public officials to operate in good faith and improve their practices so that the public bodies are more transparent and open public input,” said Zegel.