City Clerk Devon Reid has issued a memorandum in which he states that the “Emergency City Council Meeting” called for 10 a.m. on June 30 by Mayor Steve Hagerty violates the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA).
The RoundTable raised concerns about a possible OMA violation on Wednesday night, in response to an email from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz notifying members of the media that Mayor Hagerty had called a “Special City Council meeting” for June 30. The RoundTable’s email, copied to Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar and Clerk Reid, raised concerns about the lack of proper notice. A 48-hour notice is required for special meetings held by most elected public bodies. Mr. Farrar did not respond to the RoundTable, but Mr. Bobkiewicz told the RoundTable in a telephone conversation on June 29, “You were right” and for that reason, he said, Mayor Hagerty had changed the meeting from a “special” to an “emergency” meeting.
Because several neighboring municipalities have opted out of the Cook County ordinance creating a minimum wage, Mayor Hagerty said he believes the City Council should consider opting out immediately.
In a memorandum made public this morning, June 30, Mr. Reid stated, “I have contacted the Office of the Public Access Counselor of the Attorney General and have been informed there is no legal opinion on record that would support the City’s position. The Emergency Declaration argues that the actions of neighboring municipalities — all of which were done in full compliance of the Illinois Open Meetings Act — constitute a ‘fiscal emergency” in the City of Evanston. Even if other municipalities decide to opt-out of Cook County’s Ordinance Creating a Minimum Wage and even if such actions have an impact on employers in the City of Evanston — all of which is extremely speculative — these policy decisions inherently do not, in and of themselves, qualify as a bona fide emergency. The City’s failure to plan for or anticipate events of neighboring municipalities, whatever the merits of those decisions or the merits of the City of Evanston opting out of the County Ordinance, does not constitute a bona fide emergency. I believe respect for the rule of law dictates that the City rescind its Emergency Declaration and, instead, call for a special meeting of the City Council, within the guidelines of the Illinois Open Meetings Act and provide for 48 hours’ notice to residents, employers and employees of the City of Evanston. No vote or action should take place on Friday. I suggest in lieu of an official meeting, public comment should be accepted in an informal session.”
It is unclear whether City Council can meet without proper notice under the Open Meetings Act to consider public comment. The Open Meetings Act does not distinguish between formal and informal sessions. Section 1.02 of the Act defines “meetings” subject to the Act as follows: “For the purposes of this Act: ‘Meeting’ means any gathering, whether in person or by video or audio conference, telephone call, electronic means (such as, without limitation, electronic mail, electronic chat, and instant messaging), or other means of contemporaneous interactive communication, of a majority of a quorum of the members of a public body held for the purpose of discussing public business or, for a 5-member public body, a quorum of the members of a public body held for the purpose of discussing public business.”