March is supposed to be Sunshine Month in Illinois, a time in particular for public bodies to demonstrate to taxpayers that they have conducted their business openly.
A year ago City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz asked members of the press how they thought Evanston should observe Sunshine Month. While we do not know how other members of the news media responded, the RoundTable asked for minutes of closed-session meetings to be released. We thought it was time then, since the new Council had been in office for at least 11 months and the Illinois Open Meetings Act requires some action on closed-session minutes at least twice a year.
We made that request at least two other times and were always told that the City was “working on it.” Granted, these were informal requests – to the City Manager’s office and to one alderman. Still, we were disappointed that we had to be the ones to remind the City of its obligations and that our requests, apparently, became low-priority items.
Section 2.06 (d) of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS 120/1-6) states; (d) Each public body shall periodically, but no less than semi-annually, meet to review minutes and recordings of all closed meetings. At such meetings a determination shall be made, and reported in an open session that (1) the need for confidentiality still exists as to all or part of those minutes or (2) that the minutes or recordings or portions thereof no longer require confidential treatment and are available for public inspection.”
Since this Council was sworn in almost two years ago, there has been only one indication of which we are aware that Council discussed releasing closed-session minutes: One reason given for closing a January meeting was “minutes” – a legal exception under the Open Meetings Act. Presumably, the Council is considering which minutes – or portions of minutes – can now be released.
While Council can discuss that in a closed session, the discussion to release the minutes or to continue to withhold them must be reported in open session.
We note that minutes of two closed-session meetings held in 2008 have been posted on the City’s website, but we did not see a public agenda item or a determination to make those minutes public.
Nor have seen a determination reported in open session that a need still exists to keep the remaining minutes confidential.
It is March again. While we await action on the minutes of closed sessions from the last 16 months, we see a ray of sunshine that Council is beginning to act.