Attorney general concludes Clark County Park District Ethics Commission violated the law
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has determined that the Clark County Park District Ethics Commission violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA) when it held a meeting that was not open to the public in November.
In her May 11 letter to Lisa Thomas, the citizen who filed the complaint, and the commission’s attorney Lorna Geiler, Madigan said that the commission is a public body subject to OMA requirements, which “violated OMA in connection with (a November) meeting by failing to post an agenda, failing to keep minutes of its open and closed sessions, failing to keep a verbatim record of its closed session, and by improperly entering closed session.”
According to OMA, “public bodies exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business and that the people have a right to be informed as to the conduct of their business.” In order to keep the people of Illinois informed, the act ensures that “the actions of public bodies be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”
Earlier this year, Thomas submitted a Request for Review claiming the commission violated OMA in connection with a meeting on Nov. 25, 2015, by not posting an agenda on their website for public notice, not create an agenda, not allowing the public to attend the meeting and failing to record the closed session, among other complaints.
Following Thomas’ complaint, the Public Access Bureau notified the president of the district's board of commissioners of the allegations, requesting a response to the allegations and clarity on whether the commission was asserting that it is not a public body under OMA. In addition, the bureau asked for copies of the agenda, minutes taken and any video or audio recordings of the meeting.
Approximately two weeks later, in early February, Geiler responded on the commission’s behalf, arguing that “there was not a gathering of a majority of a quorum of the members of a public body on Nov. 25, 2015,” and that the commission is not a public body because the commission was acting under the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act -- and therefore not subject to OMA.
Thomas clarified in a written response that her complaint was against the commission, not the board, and countered that the commission is an administrative body of the district, and thus subject to OMA. In a follow-up response, included a copy of a letter written by Warren Le Fever, stating that he was present at the commission's meeting but was informed that the meeting was a closed session, and that he had to leave after the last committee member, Gary Strohm, arrived.
Geiler did not dispute Le Fever’s statement, but reiterated on March 4 that the commission was created by the Public Access Bureau and operates under its own procedures.
After close analysis of the issues raised, Madigan’s office found that “the available information indicates that the commission is solely affiliated with a county park district, which is a unit or local government. Accordingly, we conclude that the commission is not a judicial body excluded from the requirements of OMA.”