On Aug. 14, the Public Access Bureau of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General issued an opinion finding that Evanston’s City Council violated the Open Meetings Act by failing to provide the 48 hours’ advance notice required before holding a special meeting on June 30, 2017.
On June 30, City Council met and discussed whether or not to opt out of Cook County’s Ordinance that raised the minimum wage and required employers to make payments for sick leave. Council members heard extensive public comment on the issue, and many Council members expressed their views that the City should not opt out of the County’s ordinance. Council took no formal vote at the meeting.
The Open Meetings Act defines a “meeting” to include, “any gathering … of a majority of a quorum of the members of a public body held for the purpose of discussing public business …” The Act applies whether or not a vote is taken at the meeting.
The City acknowledged it failed to give 48 hours advance notice of the meeting, but claimed it could go forward with the meeting because it was deemed an “emergency” meeting, which the Open Meetings Act allows to go forward without 48 hours notice.
Four residents asked the Attorney General’ Office to review whether the June 30 City Council meeting was held in violation of the Open Meetings Act. They argued there was no bona fide emergency.
The City argued that there was an emergency because Wilmette voted to opt out of the County ordinance on June 26, and Skokie announced on June 28 its intention to opt out. The City argued that the actions of these contiguous municipalities created exceptional circumstances which necessitated the calling of an emergency meeting.
The Public Access Counselor noted that the Cook County Ordinance was passed in October 2016, and said, “The Council clearly should have anticipated well before June 30, 2017 that it might wish to take action on the Cook County ordinances prior to their July 1, 2017 effective dates. … Although actions by other municipalities may have spurred the Council to schedule the meeting, the fact that other Cook County municipalities would consider the impact of the Cook County ordinances was reasonably foreseeable.” The Public Access Counselor also noted that City Council could have considered the issue after the July 1, 2017 effective date.
The Public Access Counselor concluded there was no emergency and that City Council “violated section 2.02(a) of OMA by failing to provide sufficient advance notice for the meeting.”
The Public Access Counselor did not enter any relief to remedy the violation on the premise that City Council took no action at the June 30 meeting.