Illinois Park District Board Settles Open Meetings Act Lawsuit
The adoption and implementation of public comment rules may avoid litigation for public bodies. Recently, the Clark County Park District Board ("Park") settled an Open Meetings Act lawsuit for $415.50. The settlement amount represented the fees incurred by Kirk Allen ("Allen") who sued the Park when the Park did not allow public comments during a special meeting. On May 12, 2014, the Park District held a special meeting to discuss the employment status of the executive director. Community members anticipated they would be able to make comments during the public portion of the meeting, but when the Park Board returned from closed session, it tabled the agenda item for "status of executive director" and informed the public there would be no public comment.
At issue was whether Section 120/2.06(g) of the Open Meetings Act required the Park to allow comments at the special meeting. Section 120/2.06(g) provides, in relevant part that "[a]ny person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body."
Unfortunately, we will not receive a court interpretation on that section of the Open Meeting Act based on this case. On June 26, the Park District held a special board meeting to address the lawsuit. There, the Board voted to settle the suit by personally paying Allen's court fees, as well as adopting rules that would regulate public comments. On June 27, Allen filed a Motion to Dismiss with Prejudice.
All public entities should work with their legal counsel to adopt reasonable regulations allowing public comment. Public bodies that have already adopted regulations should review them for compliance with recent cases and train staff appropriately on enforcement.