Why I’m alleging DeKalb violated the Open Meetings Act yesterday

During a special meeting of the city council yesterday, I alleged that City of DeKalb had not given sufficient notice of the meeting, in that DeKalb did not explicitly name a location for it.

The city maintains that it gave sufficient notice because the agenda was printed on city letterhead, which includes the address of the Municipal Building. I believe letterhead may be sufficient for a regular meeting but not for a special meeting.

From merely a practical standpoint, consider that DeKalb often holds special meetings in special places, not just the Muni Building. As an example, I’ve attended special meetings of council at NIU, the library — even once on a bus. People who attend city meetings know about this aspect of special meetings, and the lack of location information caused confusion among the public yesterday.

There are legal considerations as well. Let’s explore them.

Defining the problem under OMA

To explain what went wrong, we first need to note that under the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA), public notices and agendas are required for all public meetings, but the specifics are different depending on whether a particular meeting is classified as a regular meeting or a special meeting.

Notice, which we are particularly concerned with today, must include time, date, and location of meetings.

For regular meetings, public notice of meeting schedule and location is given once per year, preceding each new fiscal or calendar year. Any change to time, date, or location of a regular meeting requires a new notice, given at least 10 days in advance of the change. So while certainly not optimal if one is concerned with providing a communicative customer service experience, the omission of location information from a regular agenda is not a problem under OMA, because notice of that location has already been given via the annual requirement. The city then just needs to post an agenda for a regular meeting a minimum of 48 hours in advance of the meeting.

Special meetings aren’t covered under the annual notice requirement, but as with all meetings, proper notice (date, time, location) is still required. In this case, public notice is specific to each special meeting and posted along with the agenda. DeKalb did not give notice of location in its posting of yesterday’s special meeting agenda, and this omission, I allege, is a violation of OMA.

Chapter and verse

For those interested, here are portions of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS 120/) that are pertinent to yesterday’s special meeting.

See here the requirement for annual public notice for regular meetings, and the posting together of notice and agenda for special meetings:

Sec. 2.02. Public notice of all meetings, whether open or closed to the public, shall be given as follows:
(a) Every public body shall give public notice of the schedule of regular meetings at the beginning of each calendar or fiscal year and shall state the regular dates, times, and places of such meetings. An agenda for each regular meeting shall be posted at the principal office of the public body and at the location where the meeting is to be held at least 48 hours in advance of the holding of the meeting. A public body that has a website that the full-time staff of the public body maintains shall also post on its website the agenda of any regular meetings of the governing body of that public body. Any agenda of a regular meeting that is posted on a public body’s website shall remain posted on the website until the regular meeting is concluded. The requirement of a regular meeting agenda shall not preclude the consideration of items not specifically set forth in the agenda. Public notice of any special meeting except a meeting held in the event of a bona fide emergency, or of any rescheduled regular meeting, or of any reconvened meeting, shall be given at least 48 hours before such meeting, which notice shall also include the agenda for the special, rescheduled, or reconvened meeting[.]

And the following sets the requirements for changing a regular meeting:

Sec. 2.03. In addition to the notice required by Section 2.02, each body subject to this Act must, at the beginning of each calendar or fiscal year, prepare and make available a schedule of all its regular meetings for such calendar or fiscal year, listing the times and places of such meetings.
If a change is made in regular meeting dates, at least 10 days’ notice of such change shall be given by publication in a newspaper of general circulation in the area in which such body functions.

City Barbs’ Facebook discussion space on this post is here.