Overly Broad Agenda Item Violates OMA

In a binding opinion, the Public Access Counselor found that the Farm Committee of the Shelby County Board violated Section 2.02(c) of the Open Meetings Act because the committee took final action on two items without providing sufficient advance notice on its meeting agenda.  At the meeting in question, the committee allegedly approved two actions that were not listed on the meeting agenda: (1) to hire an individual to attain crop insurance, and (2) to borrow up to $7,500 for crop expenses.  The agenda for the meeting included the following: “Discussion and vote on recommendation to the County Board regarding farming options for the County Farm.” The committee argued that the action items at issue were “closely related to, appropriate, relative and pertinent to” the discussion and recommendations of “farming options,” which were identified on the agenda.

Upon review, the PAC found that the committee violated Section 2.02(c) of the OMA, which requires that a public body’s agenda include the “general subject matter of any resolution or ordinance that will be the subject of final action at the meeting.”  The Illinois Supreme Court has indicated that agendas must include sufficient detail to notify members of the public about the types of final actions a public body anticipates taking.  Here, the PAC determined that the committee’s agenda item did not list the general subject matter of the two action items at issue: namely, to obtain crop insurance and to borrow money for crop expenses.  Instead, the agenda item simply restated the purpose of the committee, which was to address issues related to a county farm and make recommendations to the county board regarding options for the county farm.  Thus, the Board took final action without sufficiently listing the general subject matter of its actions in violation of the OMA.

The PAC also rejected the committee’s argument that the county board cured any violation by considering and voting on the committee’s recommendations at its own meeting.  Because the committee and county board  are separate public bodies for purposes of the OMA, the PAC found that the county board could not cure a violation by the committee.

This opinion serves as an important reminder to include sufficient detail on meeting agendas to notify members of the public about the types of final actions that may be taken at the meeting.  While the agenda item need not be as detailed as the final action itself, it should include the general subject matter of any potential final action.  The binding opinion also clarifies that a committee of a public body is treated as a separate body for OMA purposes, so a board cannot cure a violation of its committees.