Injunctions for violating OMA
The plaintiff, Roxana school district (district) was concerned about its tax revenue decreasing based upon certain certifications that the Pollution Control Board (PCB) was granting to the co-defendant WRB. The district alleged that another public body like itself, the PCB, and the other co-defendants violated the OMA when granting these certifications. But instead of writing to the public access counselor, the school district requested the court to issue a preliminary injunction (a court order to stop the PCB from holding closed meetings) under the OMA.
The court issued a preliminary injunction against the PCB, ordering it to (1) stop violating the OMA and (2) hold its future meetings “with WRB” in public. WRB appealed the order with two arguments. First, it argued that the preliminary injunction should not apply because the court did not follow the general rule of law that applies when a court issues a preliminary injunction. Specifically, WRB wanted the chance to dispute the school district’s allegations before the court ordered the preliminary injunction. Second, WRB argued that the order was too narrow because it only applied to meetings “with WRB” and the PCB, not “all” entities that appear before the PCB.
The court held that the language in the OMA creates an exception to the general rule of preliminary injunctions. That means the court had full authority to issue the preliminary injunction under the OMA without allowing WRB to dispute the school district’s allegations as it could under the general rule. However, the court did modify the order specific to WRB to “more closely comport with the equity and the intent of the OMA” by applying it to “all” entities’ business before the PCB.
This decision is a reminder to school officials that courts have authority to order them to hold their meetings in public and always follow the intent of the OMA. Violating a court order can sometimes lead to various contempt of court allegations. It is also an example that public bodies can allege violations against each other. For questions about your district’s specific OMA practices contact the board attorney.