Your Rights to Open Public Meetings in Evanston

City of Evanston Right to Know

Illinois public policy is that the City government exists to help conduct the people’s business, and that the people have a right to be informed of that business. As such, City actions must be considered and taken with very specific, limited exceptions. (5 ILCS 120/1) The City is required to train all staff, appointees and elected officials to follow Open Meeting regulations. (5 ILCS 120/1.05)

What is the Open Meetings Act?

The Open Meetings Act, or OMA, is the state law protecting the public’s “right to know.” OMA sets the City’s requirements of public notice, place and subject meetings of these meetings. (5 ILCS 120/1)

Jump To

Public Meetings | Public Notice | Agendas | Recordings | Public Comment | Minutes | Closed (Executive) Sessions | Requests for State Review of City Meeting | Penalties for City Violations | Official OMA Links

 

Public Meetings

What Counts as a Meeting?

OMA regulations are defined to prevent all discussions of public business by a quorum. Meetings can be telephone calls, texts, e-mails, e-chats, instant messaging, video or audio conferences, etc., that involve a majority of a quorum. In all of these cases, the public body is required to follow OMA regulations.(5 ILCS 120/1.02)

Minimum Members Present

To hold a City meeting to discuss or act on public business, the public body (whether it be the Council, a board, a commission or a committee) has to have a majority of a “quorum” physically present (5 ILCS 120/2.01) at the meeting. So a 7-member board with a quorum of 4, would need at least 3 members present. However, Boards with 5 members must have a at least a 3-member quorum and need all 3 members vote yes to adopt any motion, resolution or ordinance. (5 ILCS 120/1.02)

Convenient Time & Place

Meetings must be held at a specific time and place that is convenient and open to the public. Meetings cannot be held on a public holiday, unless it was a regularly scheduled meeting. (5 ILCS 120/2.01)

 

 

Public Notice

At the beginning of each calendar or fiscal year, each City body is required to give public notice of its schedule of regular meetings for the year, including the dates, times and locations for the meetings. This notice must be posted on the City website, as well as the main office of the City body holding the meeting. If no principal office exists, it must be posted at the building where the meeting will be held. (5 ILCS 120/2.03)

The City body must give at least 10 days notice to the public if it changes a regular meeting schedule. This notice of change must be posted in at least 3 prominent places, including being published in the newspaper and at the above main office or building. (5 ILCS 120/2.03)

 

Agendas

Agendas are the list of items to be discussed or acted on during a meeting, and they must include the items subject to final action for the meeting. (5 ILCS 120/2.02)(c) Agendas are required to be posted on the City website and the main office of the public body, or, if the office doesn’t exist, the building where the meeting will be held. Agendas can’t be changed less than 48 hours before a meeting.

During Regular Meetings, a City body is prohibited from voting or acting on items not posted on the agenda, though it can discuss those other items. However, during Special or Emergency Meetings, City bodies cannot act on or discuss items not posted on the agenda.

 

Public Comment

The Open Meetings Act requires City bodies give the public opportunity to speak at public meetings. The City body may regulate public comment through its established, written rules. (5 ILCS 120/2.06)(g)

 

Audio & Video Recordings

Any person can record public meetings, though there are a few exceptions. If a witness required to give testimony during a public meeting refuses on the grounds that testimony will be broadcast or televised, the City body can prohibit audio and video recording during that testimony. (5 ILCS 120/2.05)

 

Minutes

The City body is required to take minutes of both its open and closed meetings. The minutes must include the date, time and place of the meeting; members present and absent (and if any members attended by phone or video); a summary of the discussion of all matters proposed, deliberated, or decided; and a record of any votes taken. Committees and subcommittees within the public bodies must also keep minutes.  (5 ILCS 120/2.06)(a)

Open Meeting Minutes

The City body must approve its minutes within 30 days or at its next Regular meeting, whichever is later. and must be posted to the City’s website within 10 days after they are approved. (5 ILCS 120/2.06)(b)

Closed Meeting Minutes

All closed meeting minutes must be audio or video recorded verbatim. The City body must meet semi-annually to review closed session minutes to determine if confidentiality is still needed for protection of the 1) public interest, or 2) privacy of an individual. The decision to open those minutes or keep them closed must be reported in open session.

If the City body determines that confidentiality is no longer needed, it must make those minutes available to the public. If the body is notified of its failure to do any of the above, it has up to 60 days comply with the requirements. (5 ILCS 120/2.06)(d)(f)

 

Closed Sessions (aka Executive Sessions)

Before a City body can close a meeting to the public it must:

  1. Meet first in an open public meeting;
  2. State the specific OMA exemption it’s closing under; and
  3. Vote to close the meeting by a majority vote of a quorum present. (5 ILCS 120/2a)

In the Closed Session, the City body must:

  1. Make an audio or video recording of all closed meeting minutes and discussion;
  2. Include only the members of that City body, and others involved in the specific exemption (such as witnesses testifying on complaints against an employee).
  3. Not discuss any topics other than those to which it stated publicly it was closing the meeting; and
  4. Never take any votes or other final actions. (5 ILCS 120/2)(e)

Exemptions Allowing Closed Meetings (5 ILCS 120/2)(c):

The City can close a meeting to discuss only the following:

  • Appointments, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of a specific City employee or legal counsel;
  • Collective negotiating matters or deliberations concerning salary schedules for one or more classes of employees;
  • Discipline or removal of a public officer or appointee to fill an open position;
  • Evidence or testimony received in a hearing, but only by a quasi-adjudicative body that prepares and makes available for public inspection a written decision setting forth its determinative reasoning;
  • The City’s purchase or lease of real property;
  • The setting of a price for sale or lease of property owned by the City;
  • The City’s sale or purchase of securities, investments, or investment contracts;
  • City security procedures;
  • Student disciplinary cases;
  • The placement of individual students in special education programs and other matters relating to individual students;
  • Pending or probable litigation against, affecting or on behalf of the City;
  • The establishment of reserves or settlement of claims as provided in the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act;
  • Resolving housing discrimination complaints;
  • Ongoing, prior or future criminal investigations, but only when discussed by City bodies with criminal investigatory responsibilities;
  • Professional ethics or performance, but only when discussed by an advisory body, and only in discussing items specifically relevant to that body’s purpose;
  • Self-evaluation, practices and procedures or professional ethics with representatives of statewide associations;
  • Recruitment, credentialing, discipline or formal peer review of physicians or other health care professionals for a hospital or other health care center;
  • Deliberations for decisions of the Prisoner Review Board;
  • Review of Experimental Organ Transplantation Procedures Act applications received;
  • Classification of confidential State Government Suggestion Award Board matters;
  • Minutes of a meeting legally closed under OMA;
  • Deliberations of the State Emergency Medical Services Disciplinary Review Board;
  • City operations of City utility contracts concerning the purchase, sale or delivery of electricity or natural gas, or the conclusions of lead forecast studies;
  • Residential health care facility meetings of a resident by the facility’s sexual assault and death review team;
  • Meetings of an independent team of experts under Brian’s Law
  • Department of Juvenile Justice Mortality Review Team Act meetings
  • Blank
  • Non-disclosable Public Aid Code records under of the Public Aid Code Section 11‑9, 05 ILCS 5/1-1.
  • Internal or external auditors and governmental finance committees, etc., but only about internal control weaknesses and fraud, and only when conducted in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards of the United States of America;
  • Portions of fatality review team meetings;
  • Firearm Concealed Carry Act meetings;
  • Portions of Regional Transportation Authority Board meetings;
  • Portions of Illinois Controlled Substances Act advisory and peer review meetings; and
  • Tax Increment Financing Reform meetings under Section 2505-800 of the Department of Revenue Law

 

Requests for State Review of City Meeting

Your Right to Request State Review (No Cost)

If you believe that a City body has violated the Open Meetings Act, you may file a Request for Review with the State Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor within 60 days of discovery of the alleged violation. (5 ILCS 120/3.5)(a)

Sample OMA Form City of Evanston
Sample OMA Form provided by the State Public Access Counselor

Make your request in writing, and include a summary of the facts supporting the allegation, and be sure to sign it. Need help? We can help (click here).

 EMAIL 

Email request to publicaccess@atg.state.il.us

 MAIL 

Attn: Public Access Counselor

Office of the Attorney General

500 S. 2nd Street

Springfield, Illinois 62701

 

What Happens During a Request for Review

The Public Access Counselor (PAC) will review your request, and if it feels it warrants further action, it will send a letter to the City (within 7 business days) with your request to notify them of the review. The City then has 7 business days to provide the Counselor with the records requested, and if not, the Attorney General may issue a subpoena for them.

The Counselor will then issue a determination (within 60 days of your request, or extend up to 21 additional business days if it requires and extension) to you and the City.

If the Counselor determines the City violated the Open Meetings Act, the City body must take the necessary actions as soon as practical to comply with the decision. (5 ILCS 120/3.5)

 

 

Penalties for City Violations

Any person violating any provisions of the Open Meetings Act, other than provisions regarding OMA training, is guilty of a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,500.

 

Official OMA Links

How to Submit a Request for Review to a Public Access Counselor (Attorney General’s Office)

Full State Statute of the Open Meetings Act