Illinois Attorney General: Galesburg violated the Open Meeting Act.Here’s why and what it means

explanation: This story has been updated for clarity. The Public Access Counselor has determined that the resolution does not require the issuance of a binding opinion and is therefore non-binding. Second, PAC requested, but did not request, the City Council to vote on the recording of the December 5 closed session and the release of portions of his closed session on December 19. .

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office said that when the Galesburg City Council spent two meetings in December 2022, it spent closed-door sessions discussing the “not within exception” issue cited at the end of the meetings. , ruled that the public meeting law was violated.

Word 1 Alderman Bradley Hicks, then Word 7 Alderman Larry Cox Filed complaint for violation of public assembly law It argues that the agenda items discussed at the December 5th and 19th executive meetings should not have been held in private.

Among the items the AG office determined violated the Open Conference Act were discussions about creating the post of assistant city manager and salary issues related to employment positions rather than specific employees. There was a discussion of

The decision, issued Friday by Public Access Director Steve Silverman, calls on the City Council to vote on the release of recordings of closed sessions on Dec. 5 and some recordings from closed sessions on Dec. 19. increase. No fines or penalties were imposed on the city.

Silberman’s official statement states,

“Following the above conclusions, the Secretariat has requested the City Council to make available to the public the verbatim transcript of the closed session on December 5, 2022 and a portion of the verbatim transcript of the December closed session. I request that you rectify the inappropriate Closed Session discussion by voting January 19, 2022, Closed Sessions that were not permitted under the exception of Section 2(c)(1).

“Public Access Counselors have determined that the resolution of this matter does not require the issuance of a binding opinion. This file has been closed.”

Hicks and Cox filed direct violations against Galesburg Mayor Peter Schwartzman and Mayor Gerald Smith, but OMA stipulates that a request for review can be filed against a public entity, not individual officials. .

The judgment from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office was sent Friday to Hicks, Cox, Schwartzman and Paul Mangeri of Barash & Everett, LCC, the law firm representing the city.

WGIL requested and received a copy of the ruling from the Office of the Attorney General on Friday.

“This is a serious problem and one that cannot be taken lightly.” – Galesburg Mayor Peter Schwartzman

Schwartzman confirmed to WGIL that he had received the ruling from the AG office, but declined to comment and deferred discussions with city attorneys.

“I received the letter and read it,” Schwartzman said. “Since the letter is written in legal language and is not my area of ​​expertise, I have already sent my attorney some follow-up questions. We should have a more substantive answer next week.

“This is a serious problem and one that cannot be taken lightly.”

On January 23, the AG office sent a copy of the Request for Review to Schwartzman, requesting copies of the agendas, opening and closing minutes, and closing verbatim transcripts of the December 5 and December 19 meetings of the City Council. . The AG office also requested a written response identifying the exceptions given by the City Council as grounds for entering the closed session, and a detailed explanation of the applicability of the exception to the portion of the closed session involving the creation of assistants. . Mayoral positions, salaries for employees or employment positions, and/or salary surveys.

December 5th meeting

At its Dec. 5 meeting, the city council said it had “entered a closed session to address potential responses to pending EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) complaints against the city.” I was. EEOC-compliant complaints include allegations of racism, sexism, and a generally hostile work environment. “

The response further explained that the EEOC may require the employment of eligible minority applicants as a remedy for systemic discrimination and to prevent future discrimination. Accordingly, the City Council has discussed the possibility of creating either the position of deputy director of public works upon the retirement of an individual who has served as director of public works, or a position that encompasses the roles of both director of public works and deputy mayor. the answer said. At the time; filling new positions with eligible minority applicants was presented as a possible option to address EEOC complaints.

Listen here: Was this Galesburg business suitable for an executive session?

Based on the AG Office’s review of the verbatim transcript of the closed session, the upcoming retirement of Public Works Director (Wayne Carl) was referenced in the context of a broader discussion about the possibility of creating new employment positions. The City Council did not substantively discuss the behavior, performance, qualifications, or terms of employment of any particular employee or applicant. Instead, the discussion focused on the possibility of recruiting prospective minority applicants to fill new employment positions in response to EEOC complaints. Section 2(c)(1) did not allow the City Council to discuss the matter in a closed session because it was about the possibility of creating new employment positions rather than.

The City Council’s response to the AG office also suggests that Section 2(c)(11) of OMA6 “may have authorized the closing of the public meeting as a closed session discussion.” It included a discussion of ongoing litigation. “

The AG’s decision said it was unclear at the time of the December 5 meeting whether the pending EEOC complaint against the city had progressed to what would be considered a “lawsuit.”

Nevertheless, the AG office noted that the City Council did not publicly cite the Section 2(c)(11) exception before entering the closed session required by Section 2a of the OMA.

December 19th meeting

The city council’s response to the AG said the council’s December 19 closed-door session said employees would take on additional responsibilities after former city attorney Bradley Nolden resigned to take a position at Knox University. said it was caused by concerns about receiving a pay raise to compensate for

The AG has agreed that certain parts of the discussion are focused on specific city officials and are therefore allowed to be discussed in closed sessions.

In response to the Open Meetings Act investigation: City of Galesburg says executive meeting justified

Silberman wrote other parts of the discussion, including unfilled positions and the possibility of creating positions without mentioning the specific employees or applicants who might fill them. In addition, the main topic of discussion, payroll research, concerned a comprehensive review of compensation for different categories of employees. These portions of the closed sessions did not involve discussions of specific employees or job applicants, but instead were about employment status and categories of employees, and therefore Section 2(c) of the OMA. (1) did not allow the City Council to hold discussions in private; session.

Cox, who lost the April 2 election to new District 7 Alderman Steve Cheesman, said he was not surprised by the Attorney General’s findings on the city.

“At the time I filled it in, I believed the mayor said something at a closed executive meeting of the city council that he should have said at a public meeting where the public could hear,” Cox said.

“Only Mayor Smith and perhaps Mayor Schwartzman knew what was going to be discussed at these executive meetings. I hope you can give me some advice.”

Hix adds: From now on, it is imperative that the mayor and city administrators hold city councils in strict accordance with the law. “

OMA Decision Letter by WGIL Radio on Scribd

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