Attorney General Determines That District Exceeded the Scope of OMA Closed Session Exception

The Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor (“PAC”) issued a non-binding letter that the Board of Education of Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 violated the Open Meetings Act (“OMA”) by entering closed session and thereby exceeding the scope of the exception for which the closed session was called.

On June 19, 2018, the Board of Education of Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 entered a closed session pursuant to Section 2(c)(1) of OMA to discuss “[t]he appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees of the public body…” 5 ILCS 120/2(c)(1). According to the PAC, the Board of Education discussed specific employees, but also discussed matters such as the title of a prospective position and structural and financial comparisons to other schools districts.

A private citizen submitted a Request for Review with the PAC alleging that the Board of Education had improperly discussed an administrative reorganization proposal during closed session. After review of the closed session verbatim recording, the PAC determined that the topics discussed during the closed session, although partially permitted, did not directly concern the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees, thus exceeding the scope of the exception to OMA. The PAC subsequently requested that the Board of Education make publicly available the portions of the June 19, 2018, closed session verbatim recording which does not directly concern the topics covered by the Section 2(c)(1) of OMA.

This non-binding letter from the PAC clearly illustrates the importance of limiting discussion in closed session to the specific OMA exceptions cited to enter closed session. OMA provides that exceptions are to be “strictly construed, extending only to subjects clearly within their scope.” 5 ILCS 120/2(b). OMA was enacted to ensure that actions and deliberations by public bodies are open to the public. As such, care must be exercised in closed session to limit discussion only to that which clearly falls within one of OMA’s enumerated exceptions.

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