Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Village of Orland Park may have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act

So far, no one wants to go on the record officially, but it appears that the Village of Orland Park may have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

The issue is now being reviewed by staffers for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That doesn't mean they will be willing to hammer an important Democratic municipality whose mayor has strong union ties and is controlled by the powers-that-be in the powerful Chicago 19th Ward.

Still, it is an issue.

The Village of Orland Park issued a notice on Friday, June 27, 2008 to announce that a special village board meeting would be held on Monday, June 30, 2008 at 6 PM. The notice posting met the minimal requirement that notices of public meetings be made available to the public at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting start.

But, the village notice, which announced what turned out to be a major meeting event that disclosed the Village of Orland Park has a budget shortfall of $4.8 million, also had the warning posted on the very top of the notice itself, which read "NOT FOR PUBLICATION."

How can you post a notice under the Illinois Open Meetings Act and then tell the people receiving it that it is "NOT FOR PUBLICATION?"

First, the fact that the meeting was called on a Friday suggested that there was some politics being played. Governments always announce BAD NEWS on Fridays because of the nature of the news cycle. The least viewed and read news media is on Friday. Most of what is published in Sunday's papers (SUnday is ther most read day of the week for print media) is laid-out by Thursday. And, usually, to get into the media on Monday mornings news, you would have to write it over the weekend.

So, announcing news on Friday is one way government's minimize the negative news.

Adding the warning "NOT FOR PUBLICATION" touches on a tradition of professional journalism. When you accept something that says "EMBARGOED" or "NOT FOR PUBLICATION," there is an honor in journalism in which the information will NOT BE PUBLICIZED.

But, the Illinois Open Meetings Act DEMANDS that all notices of upcoming government meetings MUST BE PUBLICIZED.

The Illinois Open Meetings Act is not written so that the media can know about events. The purpose of the LAW is to make sure the PUBLIC knows about the meetings.

How different that meeting would have been on Monday June 30, 2008 at 6 PM if members of the public had actually learned about the special meeting to discuss a major shortfall of $4.8 million in the village's budget, which is only $127 million? How different it would have been if the news media that received the notice jumped on an obviously important story on Friday instead of waiting to cover the meeting -- when so very few attended the meeting to cover it -- and then reported on it on Tuesday, after the fact and after the village had its spin.

Don't expect the village to be cited, although the Illinois Press Association spokesperson told me:

" ... a unit of government can not prohibit the publication of the date/ time/agenda of a public meeting…NO WAY. In fact, the whole idea that they put it on the top of the notice is unbelievable. "

I sent them a link to the notice, which I'll bet any amount of money, will be removed.

Ray Hanania

1 comment:

  1. Dear Mr. Hanania:

    Please permit me to respond to the July 9, 2008 column entitled, “Village of Orland Park may have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.” This particular column concerns the Village issuing a meeting notice on Friday, June 27, 2008 for a meeting of Orland Park’s Board of Trustees on Monday, June 30, 2008 at 6:00 p.m.

    The Village of Orland Park did not violate the Illinois Open Meetings Act, 5 ILCS 120/1 et seq. We followed the 48 hours notice, as required by the Open Meetings Act, which states, “Public notice of special meetings, except a meeting held in the event of a bona fide emergency, must be given at least 48 hours before such special meeting, and the notice must also include the agenda for the special meeting. The actions of the public body, while not required to be specifically detailed in the notice, should be “closely related” to those matters set forth in the agenda for the special meeting.”

    The Village followed the stipulations of the act, announcing the meeting 48 hours before it was convened and included the agenda for the meeting. This notice was publicly posted in the lobby of the Village Hall, on the Village’s website and was distributed to the media.

    As for the “not for publication” notation on the notice, this was not an “embargo order” as assumed. This phrase is used to let the media know that paid space is not being purchased for publishing the notice. This same notice was distributed to all of the media outlets that have filed requests with the Village of Orland Park to receive such notices.

    The Illinois Attorney General has exonerated the Village of Orland Park and in its letter to Mr. Hanania wrote, “While general public notice is the underlying purpose of the Act’s notice requirements, there is no evidence that the conduct of the Village in this case violates any of the Act’s provisions.”

    Assistant Public Access Counselor Amanda Lundeen further wrote, “…the Act only requires that the notice be posted, not that the Village ensure that it be published.” And, Assistant Attorney General Lundeen closes with, “As such, it does not appear from the information provided that any violation of the Open Meetings Act occurred.”

    Sincerely yours,

    David P. Maher
    Village Clerk
    Village of Orland Park