Illinois Attorney General Suggests More Stringent Notice Requirements under OMA

The Office of the Attorney General recently issued a non-binding opinion addressing proper notice requirements for agendas and personnel reports under the Open Meetings Act (“OMA”). The Public Access Counselor (“PAC”) recommended that if there is a personnel report, the agenda should explicitly state as such, and provide details on how and where to access it at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting. Also, the personnel report should be available at the location of the meeting and public body’s principal office.

The opinion confirms the use of personnel reports and addenda are not categorically prohibited, but cautions boards to ensure that sufficient information is included in the actual agenda. This includes a more detailed description of personnel information, such as “new teacher hires” and “coaching appointments” as opposed to “personnel issues.”

In the opinion, the PAC found that the Board of Education of Huntley Community School District No. 158 violated section 2.02(c) of the OMA by failing to provide advance notice of the Board’s final action to hire a football coach.

Following the Board’s February 18, 2016, meeting, Jon Styf, a newspaper editor, submitted a Request for Review to the PAC alleging that the meeting agenda had not given an adequate description of the Board’s vote to hire the high school football coach. The Board responded to the allegations by acknowledging that the approval of the hiring of a head football coach was not specifically identified on the agenda; however, there was notice that employment actions would be taken at the meeting in the form of a personnel report or addendum.

This report was posted on the District’s website with the online agenda, but it was only referenced on the notice posted to the Administration office doors and in the email sent to members of the community, including the media, 48 hours in advance of the meeting. It included the positions affected, employees’ names, salaries, the reason for the transactions and the effective dates. A hardcopy of the report was provided to all meeting attendees when the Board returned from closed session during the February 18 meeting.

In determining that the Board had violated section 2.02(c), the PAC noted that while the personnel report provided more detail than required, in this instance the report did not actually reference the football coach position. Notice of that action was not given to the public until hardcopies of the report were provided following the Board’s return from closed session. The online posting of the personnel report was insufficient notice when considering those members of the public who may only view the copy of the agenda that is physically posted or who are unfamiliar with the Board’s practice of providing the report online.

Please contact Heather Brickman or Steve Richart with any questions on the impact this opinion may have on meeting adequate notice requirements under the OMA.

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