We could strengthen open meetings laws by plugging the ‘walking quorum’ loophole


I decided to find out more about Sycamore’s new city manager (who comes to us from Wisconsin) and ended up adding to my vocabulary.

A ‘walking quorum’ is a series of gatherings among separate groups of members of a governmental body, each less than quorum size, who agree, tacitly or explicitly, to act uniformly in sufficient number to reach a quorum. In Conta, the court recognized the danger that a walking quorum may produce a predetermined outcome and thus render the publicly-held meeting a mere formality…The requirements of the open meetings law thus cannot be circumvented by using an agent or surrogate to poll a quorum of the members of governmental bodies through a series of individual contacts.

Wisconsin Open Meetings Law Compliance Guide, p. 12

Have you witnessed a governing board arriving at decisions too quickly, with little or no discussion on nonroutine or even controversial issues? Can you remember moments you found yourself muttering the words, “done deal” following a vote? If you’ve experienced these or similar situations in local government, you may be a victim of the “walking quorum.”

DeKalb city council members have been known to meet one-on-one with the city manager in private before council meetings. I always just called it “violating the spirit of the Open Meetings Act” because this practice tends to trade citizen input for the spin of unelected staff, contrary to the goals of open meetings laws.

Now I’ve found out several states, such as Texas and City Manager Michael Hall’s home state of Wisconsin, don’t depend on their local pols to honor this spirit of transparency — they’ve explicitly prohibited walking quorums.

Illinois likewise could strengthen its Open Meetings Act by plugging this loophole and it wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel to do it.