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Questions and Answers on Library Law:
The Open Meetings Act, Part II

Scott Uhler, Janet Petsche and Rinda Allison

This column appears regularly in Illinois Libraries and addresses commonly asked questions on library law. If you have questions you would like addressed in this column, please send them to: "Q and A on Library Law," Illinois Libraries, at the address on the title page of this issue. While we are not necessarily able to answer all questions, we will try to address those issues which seem to be of most concern to the greatest number of libraries. Our last column began a discussion of the Open Meetings Act; this column continues this important subject.

Q: Must every meeting of a library board be open to the public?

A: No. As we stated in our last column, the purpose of the Act is that actions of public bodies "be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly." But as you know, the Act contains numerous exceptions to the requirement for open meetings. Among the exceptions most pertinent to libraries are:

1. The appointment, employment and dismissal of employees. Public bodies also may discuss the compensation, discipline and performance of specific employees in closed sessions. The Act, as amended, also contains exceptions for closed meetings to hear testimony on a complaint lodged against an employee and collective bargaining meetings and deliberations concerning salary schedules for library employees.

2. Meetings to consider the appointment of a member to fill a vacancy on any public body but only by the public body that has the power to appoint. The library board may meet in closed session to consider the appointment of a new library trustee when a vacancy on the board has occurred. (But the library board may not discuss performance, discipline or removal of a library trustee in a closed session because the board is not empowered to remove a library trustee from office).

3. Meetings in which the purchase or lease of real property for the use of the public body is being considered; or the setting of the price for sale or lease of real estate owned by the public body is being considered or the sale or purchase of securities, investments or investment contracts is considered.

4. Meetings held to discuss litigation when an action against, on behalf of or affecting the library board has been filed and is pending before a court or administrative body; or when the board finds that an action is "probable or imminent," in which case the basis for the finding shall be entered in the minutes of the closed meeting.

5. Meeting to establish reserves or settle claims as provided in the Tort Immunity Act, if public discussion might prejudice the claim; or to review or discuss claims, loss or risk management information, records, data, advice, or communications from or with respect to any insurer of the library or any intergovernmental risk management association or self insurance pool of which the library is a member.

6. Meetings to consider emergency security procedures to respond to actual danger to safety of employees, staff or public property, provided that a description of the actual danger must be made a part of the motion to close the meeting.

7. Meetings to consider self-evaluation practices and self-evaluation procedures or professional ethics when meeting with a representative of a statewide association of which the public body is a member.

8. Meetings for the discussion of minutes of meetings lawfully closed under the Act either for approval by the body of the minutes or for the semi-annual review of such minutes as required by the Act.

Q: May a closed meeting be held for the purpose "close to" a statutory exception?

A: No It should be noted that the Act declares that the

* Scott, Uhler and Janet Petsche are partners, and Rinda Allison is an associate with the law firm of Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins, Ltd. with offices in downtown Chicago and Orland Park. The firm concentrates in the representation of public libraries and library districts in Illinois as well as other local governmental units.


exceptions should be strictly construed against closed meetings and extend only to subjects clearly within their scope.

Q: Must a closed meeting be held when the statute authorizes one?

A: No. The act authorizes closed meetings under certain specific instances. There is no requirement that any meetings be closed at any time. In fact, the Act states "Nothing ... is this Act shall be construed to require that any meeting by closed to the public.

Q: Who may be present at a closed meeting?

A: When a closed meeting is authorized under the Act, the library board may, within reason, determine who it wishes to have present at the meeting. Anyone who can aid the board in its deliberations, like the administrative librarian or the finance director or other staff person, may be a part of an authorized closed meeting. Similarly, a non-staff person may be a part of a closed meeting if that person's expertise can assist the board, such as the chief of police if a discussion is of emergency security procedures (item 6, above) or the library's attorney. However, the library board would not be authorized to permit some persons unrelated to the library or the discussion at hand to be present at a closed meeting while excluding other similarly-situated members of the general public or the press.

Q: What steps must be taken to hold a closed meeting?

A: A closed meeting must always be authorized by a motion passed by the library board at an open meeting at which at least a quorum of the board is present. The motion must be passed by a majority of the library board members present at the open meeting in a recorded roll-call vote. Further, the motion authorizing the closed meeting must identify the specific exception to the Act under which the closed meeting will be held. For example, "the purchase or lease of real estate" or "the discipline of an employee" identify permitted exceptions to the Act's requirement for open meetings. It is not necessary to include the location of the real estate being considered or the name of the employee being disciplined. Note that "personnel matters" is not a sufficient identification of a closed meeting's purpose; more specificity is required, like "employment" or "dismissal" or "discipline," as above.

A motion made at an open meeting may provide for a single closed meeting or a series of closed meetings involving the same particular matter scheduled to be held within three months of the vote. A motion to go into a closed meeting may be made at any properly noticed open meeting.

Q: What can the library board do if someone is "leaking" information from a closed meeting?

A: This is a particularly vexing problem for library boards suffering from internal dissent. The Illinois Attorney General has given the opinion that boards do not have the right to sanction members who reveal what went on at a closed meeting. Therefore, there is not much you can do about such a situation. On the other hand, a board cannot be sued by someone who claims to have been injured by disclosure of information from a closed meeting. The Illinois Appellate Court has held that there is nothing in the Act that provides a cause of action against a public body for disclosure of information from a closed meeting. Swanson v. Board of Police Commissioners. 197 Ill. App.3d 592 (Dist.1990).

Q: What items may be discussed at a closed meeting?

A: Only topics specified in the motion to hold a closed meeting may be considered at the meeting.

Q. How must the board act on an item discussed at a closed meeting?

A: No final action may be taken at a closed meeting. Even though a subject meets the requirements for a closed meeting, such meeting may only include discussion and a possible "straw vote" on the subject at hand. A board must return to the open session to vote on a motion, resolution or ordinance constituting final action. Moreover, such final action must be preceded by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and other information to inform the public of the business being conducted. "I move to pass Resolution 3" is inadequate.

Our next column will conclude our discussion of the Open Meetings Act. Following that we will discuss issues arising under the Fair Labor Standards Act.


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