Public Access Opinion 21-009

Duty to Provide Opportunity for Public Comment in Open Session

Open Meetings Act - OMA
Case: Public Access Opinion 21-009
Date: Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Board of Education of Hillsboro Community Unit School District No. 3 (Board) violated OMA when it did not provide an opportunity for public comment in open session during its meeting on June 15, 2021.
On June 24, 2021, Requestor, a sports writer for the State Journal-Register, emailed the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission (Commission) questioning whether the Board improperly restricted public comment during its meeting on June 15, 2021. In his email, Requestor said that the meeting had a large attendance, and that many were interested in the decision not to re-hire the boys’ basketball coach. However, after roll call was taken, Requestor noted that the Board immediately went into closed session. The superintendent told everyone in attendance that anyone who signed up to speak at the meeting would be able to do so.
Requestor went on to explain that the members of the public who wanted to address the Board were each called into the Board’s closed session. After the closed session ended, the Requestor stated that the Board “wrapped up all motions in a matter of minutes.” He went on to mention that no members of the public made public statements during the meeting. Requestor stated that he was trying to contact the Attorney General’s Office, and specifically wanted to know the legality of the Board’s actions. The Commission forwarded Requestor’s message to the PAC.
Upon review, the PAC found that the Board violated section 2.06(g) of OMA, which states that “[a]ny person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.” The PAC also noted in its opinion that “this provision requires that all public bodies…provide an opportunity for public comment.” In this context, public comment means providing a chance for members of the public to address the members of a public body in open session. The Board failed to do this during its meeting, therefore it was directed by the PAC to provide an opportunity for public comment in open session during all future meetings.