Addressing Public Officials in Remote Meetings
The Public Access Counselor (PAC) dismissed a complaint alleging that the McHenry County Board of Health (Board) violated section 2.06(g) of OMA during its meeting held on March 23, 2020.
The requestor stated in his request for review that the public had no opportunity to comment at the meeting. The agenda produced by the Board stated that it would hold a “virtual meeting” on March 23, 2020. A link was provided in the agenda so that members of the public could listen. The agenda also instructed the public to submit any comments or questions via email two hours prior to the meeting.
According to section 2.06(g) of OMA, “[a]ny person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.”
On March 9, 2020, the Governor of Illinois declared all counties in the state a disaster area in response to the outbreak of Covid-19. The Disaster proclamation will remain in effect for 30 days after issuance. In addition to the disaster proclamation, the Governor of Illinois also issued Executive Order 2020-07 on March 16, 2020. This executive order suspended the parts of OMA that require in-person attendance for meetings and set limitations on remote participation. On March 20, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Order 2020-10. Executive Order 2020-10 prohibited citizens from leaving their homes with certain exceptions and limited business operations.
The PAC said that it would be, “illogical to construe [OMA] as prohibiting a public body from meeting remotely during public health emergencies because the limitations of meeting in such a format may necessitate a temporary change in the public body’s method of allowing public comment.” The PAC also noted that section 2.06(g) of OMA doesn’t require public bodies to answer questions or to interact with the public. The PAC stated that allowing members of the public to submit questions via email was sufficient to satisfy section 2.06(g) of OMA. Given these facts and circumstances, the PAC determined that no further action was necessary in this matter.
Note: We have summarized this non-binding opinion as it may help districts understand how the PAC is interpreting Executive Order 2020-07 on OMA.