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Oswego School Board Officially Rebuked for Meetings Act Violations

Kendall County State's Attorney Eric Weis reminds board that there are both criminal and civil remedies to enforce provisions of the Open Meetings Act.

The School Board has received an official response from Kendall County State's Attorney Eric Weis over from this spring.

The board reported to Weis in April that it had neglected to tape record five closed session meetings held April 14, 16, 19, 20 and 21 to hire new district administrators.

The Illinois Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to audiotape or videotape all closed meetings.

Weis wrote in the letter released Thursday that the state must now determine what, if any, legal action should be taken for noncompliance.

He did note that the board self-reported the violations once realized and that the purpose of the closed meetings was permitted under the Act. Weis also wrote that for some of the closed sessions, "Board members made the effort to record the closed sessions as required by the Act even though they were unsuccessful in obtaining the verbatim recording."

Weis wrote that what concerns him is that this is not the first time District 308 has violated the Open Meetings Act.

"The Oswego School District 308 Board has a history of violations which is concerning to this Office," he wrote. "While some members are new to the Board, others have been present when these past violations have occurred."

The purpose of the Open Meetings Act is to ensure that public bodies make information available to all persons.

"This obviously cannot occur unless the Board complies with the Open Meetings Act," wrote Weis.

Human error is possible, said Weis, and could have led to the unintentional violations of the Act. However, in the case of the April 14 meeting, no recording equipment was even present, leading Weis to say that the Board did not remember recording equipment or intentionally forgot.

"It is important to remember that the Open Meetings Act sets forth both criminal and civil remedies to enforce the provisions of the Open Meetings Act," wrote Weis. "These provisions should reinforce to the Board that violations of the Open Meetings Act carry potentially serious consequences including monetary fines and incarceration."

Consequencs can be avoided by compliance with the Act.

The school Board, in a letter written to the State Attorney’s Office on Aug.15,  has agreed to the following conditions in an effort to resolve matters before litigation:

  1. All members of the Board must read the Open Meetings Act and sign an acknowledgement that they have complied with this requirement.  Any new Board member will complete this requirement within 30 days of taking office.  A copy should be provided to the State’s Attorney’s Office.
  2. Each Board member shall complete the Illinois Attorney General Open Meeting Act online training and provide proof of successful completion on an annual basis.  Any new Board member will complete this requirement within 30 days of taking office.  A copy should be provided to the State’s Attorney’s Office.
  3. Two recording devices shall be operational during all closed sessions of the Oswego School District 308 Board for a period of one year from the date of this letter. 
  4. The Board must ensure that a trained member of the Board or a trained member of staff shall be present to ensure that the recording devices are working properly and have recorded the meeting.  A list of those individuals trained in the use of the recording devices should be on file with the District.    
  5. Each member of the Board shall complete an additional one-hour training by their attorney on the Open Meetings Act.  The material must be approved by the State’s Attorney’s Office.  This training shall be completed with 90 days from the date of this letter.  Any new Board member will complete this requirement within 30 days of taking office.  A copy should be provided to the State’s Attorney’s Office.

Weis’ office also recommends that an attorney of the board’s choosing be present at all open and closed meetings for a period of a year.

The Kendall County State’s Attorney’s Office will be monitoring the Oswego School District 308 Board for the next year to ensure compliance with the terms in the letter and any future violations, Weis wrote.  

Dan August 25, 2012 at 01:55 AM
I believe when this issue came to light, it was noted that the board had instructed the district employees not to come to the meetings.
JimmyJ August 25, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Well that's an interesting change. Usually when you go to one of the meetings, the lady that calls the role is the recording secretary and she keeps the minutes, when they have gone into closed session, the public leaves the room and she stays in and keeps those minutes. I haven't been to a meeting with this new board and they still met at OHS the last time I was there so their procedures may have changed. I have to go back and look if these most recent meetings were closed sessions of a regular meeting or if they were special meetings or working sessions. If they went into closed session and asked their own recording secretary to stay out, that raises some serious questions. When this first came up I commented that this was not the first BOE to run afoul of the rules and that Behrens for sure and I think Cullick were on the board the last time this happened so surely they must have known. Did they forget or did they not say anything on purpose knowing that the officers would catch hell?
Katra Knoernschild August 26, 2012 at 12:50 AM
"in the case of the April 14 meeting, no recording equipment was even present, leading Weis to say that the Board did not remember recording equipment or intentionally forgot." During the next meeting, the recording chip was missing. The following 3, they weren't properly recording the mtgs. No administrative staff was present at any of the 5 mtgs. I was present at the meeting on the 20th. Initially the only outside person there, I questioned the board during public comment about NOT having district staff present, particularly the secretary & superintendent. I asked if I was being recorded, and if ALL meetings prior were recorded, I was told with certainty that they were. The only other people in the room were board members. There was no indication that they expected public there (sign-in sheets, etc). Later that evening, two other people joined to wait in the hall, during closed session, with one leaving before open session. We witnessed two other people go in and out of the closed session (non-district staff), and two breaks occur. When open session was called, we went in to hear the vote on an employment contract for the new Asst. Superintendent of Finance (hoping to meet him then, he wasn't there). The Board President also withheld the name and contract details from the public that night, advised by the board atty, despite a ratified contract.
JimmyJ August 26, 2012 at 02:00 AM
Katra, that's interesting. I'll admit I think the last BOE meeting I attended was one of the last when Lynn was president, I have attended meeting when Andy Young, Dave Behrens and Joe Guinnane were President and there ALWAYS was a recording secretary (district employee and usually it was the Superintendents personal secretary) present at the open portion, the audience would be asked to leave for the closed and that secretary stayed in the room. Former BOE members have told me in roughly that the closed session generally deals with specific dollars and cents of a contract or student expulsion hearing, etc. I wonder why now there is no recording secretary? Is there one present in the open meetings? There always was a table with copies of the agenda and a sign in sheet for they public. I know it's easy to put the blame on the new members who seem to be very unpopular BUT there are three veterans, two (Lynn and Dave) are well experienced and Dave is the most at what 12 years service some of that as President? Surely he of all people knew that the closed meetings had to be recorded. This is what I'm saying, if those three don't particularly care for the new 4, maybe the didn't say anything on purpose. If I hadn't been here as long as I have and seen some of the stuff I have I wouldn't say that. But around here....
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