Legal Expert Weighs in on Open Meetings Act in DeWitt County
Did the DeWitt County Board violate state law by changing an agenda ahead of a scheduled meeting?
A former county board member and head of the newly-created organization Better Government for DeWitt County says "yes."
It all comes down to when the people in charge of the board changed the agenda for the meeting. In this instance, it's a matter of minutes.
Under Illinois' Open Meetings Act, public bodies ranging from town boards to state legislative committees are required to post an agenda 48 hours ahead of a meeting for the public to review.
"The purpose of the Open Meetings Act is to ensure the public has an opportunity to attend meetings of the public body, which is defined, and to know as much as they want with what's going on," said Springfield attorney Tom Kelty.
Former DeWitt County Board member Rusty Davenport argues the chair changed the agenda in less time than is required.
Surveillance video from the county building on March 5 shows the board chair and vice chair walking in to change the posted agenda around 7:13 p.m. The county board meeting was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. two nights later.
"Obviously if you've gotta come in at 7:15 and post an agenda over the already legally posted agenda, I find that to be very non-transparent," Davenport said.
Board chair Sherrie Brown argues the meeting in question started after 7:00 p.m.
"The agenda I posted, which I had spoke to the clerk and asked her to change it, remove the item, and she refused," Brown said. "That is the authority of the chair to control the agenda, and so I was left with no option."
The dispute is over a matter of minutes.
Kelty says the open meetings act isn't cut and dry. There's room for interpretation.
"Particularly of interest to the court would be what was it that was posted, and was it acted on by the county board in this case," Kelty said. "If it were something on the agenda for informational purposes and discussion, then more than likely there's no problem, no harm, no foul. But, if it's something substantive - an ordinance adopted or a contract approval the public needs to have input into - and they don't feel they have adequate notice, could be a problem."
The difference between the old and new agenda was a line item about disciplinary action against two county employees.
The board chair wanted it. The board didn't.
Some board members wanted the suspensions removed from the employees' records.
In the end, the board ended up using the original agenda for the meeting.
The former county board member, Rusty Davenport, is considering legal action
He's also asking for the chair and vice chair to step down.