Attorney General Investigating Alleged Violation of Open Meetings Act by Winnebago County Board

The Illinois Attorney General’s office, now headed by Kwame Raoul, is investigating whether the Winnebago County Board violated the Open Meetings Act in early May when it convened in closed session under the “pending litigation” exception. The “pending litigation” exception of the Open Meetings Act provides that a public body may hold closed meetings to consider litigation “when an action against, affecting or on behalf of the particular public body has been filed and is pending before a court or administrative tribunal, or when the public body finds that an action is probable or imminent, in which case the basis for the finding shall be recorded and entered into the minutes of the closed meeting.”

At issue is whether members of the County Board discussed items other than pending litigation during closed session. The Attorney General’s office has ordered the County Board to provide the audio recording of the closed-session portion of the meeting, along with copies of the agenda and meeting minutes, so that it can assess whether the County Board violated the Open Meetings Act.

Notably, at least one County Board member has acknowledged that while the discussion during the first few minutes of the closed session meeting pertained to pending litigation, the remainder of the meeting did not. The Attorney General’s office is also currently reviewing the County Board’s denial of a request for records submitted by the Register Star in February.

The Open Meetings Act was enacted to ensure that elected officials conduct their business in public.  Accordingly, public bodies, including school boards, must exercise caution when entering closed session to ensure that any and all discussion is directly related to the cited exception.

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