Evanston City Council members are pressing City Clerk Devon Reid to produce missing meeting minutes and recordings, some dating back to 2018.
At the Aug. 3 Rules Committee meeting, aldermen and Mr. Reid, the keeper of the records for the City, agreed that the Clerk would submit minutes for some of the meetings in time for the Council’s next executive session, Monday, Aug. 10. Executive sessions, which are closed to the public, are permitted under the Illinois Open Meetings Act for public bodies to discuss a limited number of issues related to litigation, real estate, and personnel. The minutes of the discussions when released to the public can be an important part of the historical record of an issue.
Mr. Reid maintained that City officials were incorrect on the minutes they maintained were missing, including those from 2018.
He said all but minutes from five meetings — where there were problems with the audio file — had been previously submitted to the City, but then he had been asked to put them in a different format.
In an Aug. 3 memo to members of the City Council’s Rules Committee, Evanston Mayor Stephen Hagerty maintained that repeated attempts had been made to obtain recordings and minutes from up to 12 executive session meetings from Mr. Reid, dating back to May 29, 2018.
“The City Council has never been provided these minutes, and hence have not been able to approve any minutes for these meetings dates, as is their responsibility,” he said.
He raised concern that if the recordings and minutes are not produced, the City could be found in violation of the state Local Records Act., which could be considered a Class 4 felony if done knowingly.
In addition, he attached a letter he sent to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office in March, explaining the City’s situation.
It stated in part: “My office understands the severity of this matter. The City of Evanston takes seriously the public’s right-to-know, and the City of Evanston takes its responsibilities seriously in this regard. It is regrettable that I must report to the Attorney General that Clerk Reid has not fulfilled his duties under OMA (Open Meetings Act).”
The Clerk, who brought to his office an activist agenda, and the Council have been at odds, most recently over Mr. Reid’s announcing a new policy that called for the public release of all police misconduct records and records related to use-of-force incidents. The Mayor, among others, has maintained that is not Mr. Reid’s decision to make.
Figures ‘Not Accurate,’ says Mr. Reid
At the Rules Committee meeting, Clerk Reid challenged the number of minutes or recordings officials say are missing, saying all but five are somewhere on the City’s network.
“I would hope that there’d be an effort to see if there’s a way to recover those [the five] potentially corrupted audio files,” he said. “But if you want to set the record straight – that of the 12 [sets of] minutes that you have listed that are missing – there’s only five that have missing audio file, or potentially corrupted audio file.
“As I said, a number of those [other] minutes were presented to the Council – the Council rejected them, because the Council saw it was too detailed, nearly verbatim minutes,” he said. “There are another set of minutes – those were meetings that I was not present for – because those issues dealt directly with matters relating to me.”
The Mayor expressed frustration that the Clerk had not provided that information in numerous emails he sent Mr. Reid in February. If the Clerk’s claims are true, he said, the Mayor would also be upset with staff, many of them copied on the email exchange, “because they kept saying there is no audio recording for all 12.”
“I understand the five that were missing [because of corrupted audio files], but you’re saying the other seven are uploaded, all the audio recording is uploaded in there,” he said, directing his comments to Mr. Reid.
Mr. Reid responded, “they’re uploaded somewhere. There on my City device, as mentioned in your memo, that staff went through.” He said he also met with Luke Stowe, the City’s Interim Director of Administrative Services, and with the I.T. Department on the issue.
In the Mayor’s emails, staff did include a spreadsheet they said was provided by Clerk Reid on Feb. 10.
The spreadsheet lists four executive sessions in 2018, that “need to be redrafted,” three from 2019 that have “already been drafted,” and eight from Sept. 9, 2019, and running through the end of the year as “requires submission.”
In discussion, Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, stressed the importance of having access to the minutes.
There are times, Ald. Fleming said, when she might have questions about an issue, “so I’m really relying on you and allowing you to keep those records for the public [and] to keep us accountable as well,”
She told the Clerk that “if you did have the minutes and they were taken verbatim, you need to convert them to whatever format is acceptable. That should be done in a relatively quick time so we can just kind of keep moving on.”
Mr. Reid expressed his own concerns about Council’s diligence in a related area, maintaining that some executive session minutes dating back to 2014 have not been released. Council members are to periodically review those minutes and release them if they do not meet the standards established for holding them longer.
“So I think we should talk about the full picture here,” he said.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, a member of the Council during that period, said it is not accurate to say that “we did not do that on a regular basis.”
She turned back the discussion to the main issue, the batch of minutes the Clerk will change to a standard format. “I’d like to at least get that off the list so that’s completed,” she said.