Cases Pending, edited by Hon. Clare J. Quish (pictured left) and Gretchen Sperry, has been updated to discuss the Illinois Supreme Court’s November Term, which began Monday, November 14, 2016, with oral arguments scheduled for November 15, 2016. A total of 4 cases were heard – 1 civil and 3 criminal. Here is the civil case with the date of oral argument:
Board of Education of Springfield School District No. 186 v. The Attorney General of Illinois—No. 120343—November 15
Below is an abbreviated summary for the case. Summaries for this case and others pending with the Supreme Court can be found in our Cases Pending publication, accessible to ALA members on our website.
Board of Educ. of Springfield School Dist. No. 186 v. Attorney General of Illinois
The following two issues are presented in this appeal: (1) whether the signing of an agreement during a closed session meeting constitutes a final action in violation of section 2(e) of the Open Meetings Act (“Act”) where the agreement was later approved by vote at a subsequent public meeting; and (2) whether the public was adequately informed of the nature of the public action to be taken at the subsequent meeting.
Plaintiff, the Board of Education of Springfield School District No. 186 (“Board”), terminated its superintendent’s employment contract upon mutual agreement. The superintendent signed the agreement on January 31, 2013, and at a closed session meeting on February 4, 2013, a majority of the Board signed, but did not date, the agreement. The agenda for the March 5, 2013 Board meeting included an action item to approve a resolution related to the agreement and included a copy of the agreement itself. At the next Board meeting, the Board approved the agreement in open session and added the March 5, 2013 date to the Board members’ signatures on the agreement.
The Illinois Attorney General (“AG”) issued a binding opinion concluding that the signing of the agreement during the February 4, 2013, closed session meeting constituted a “final action” in violation of section 2(e) of the Act (5 ILCS 120/2(e)). On the Board’s complaint for administrative review, the circuit court found that the “final action” occurred on March 5, 2013, when the Board members voted to approve the agreement during the public meeting.
The AG then issued a second binding opinion, concluding that the Board violated the Act by failing to adequately inform the public of the nature of the public business being conducted at the March 5, 2013, meeting. The circuit court again reversed, finding that the AG expanded the requirements of the Act to require that a public body explain the significance of the final action to be taken, rather than merely advise the public of the nature of the final action to be taken.
The Illinois Appellate Court, Fourth District affirmed both circuit court orders. Relying on Grissom v. Board of Education, 75 Ill. 2d 314 (1979), it held that a Board can discuss and vote on an employment decision in closed session and hold a final roll call vote on that decision in open session without violating the Act. The appellate court also concluded that the Act only requires that the public agency advise the public about the general nature of the final action to be taken, but it is not required to provide a detailed explanation as to the significance or impact of the final action.
In her petition for leave to appeal, the AG argues that the appellate court’s decision allows public bodies to take final action during open meetings without making a public recital at the meeting to inform the public about the business being transacted, in violation of section 2(e) of the Act. The AG also argues that the appellate court erred in holding that the Board validly approved the separation agreement at the March 5, 2013, meeting because the public was not adequately informed about the general subject matter of the agreement, which is inconsistent with the language of section 2(e) of the Act and with the Act's purpose of keeping the public “informed as to the conduct of their business.” 5 ILCS 120/1.