AG: Comments Should Have Been In Public

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The office of the Illinois Attorney General ruled on Tuesday, Sept. 21, that the Hillsboro School Board violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act when it required members of the public to address the board in closed session regarding previous and pending coaching decisions.

The State Journal-Register had filed the request for review after public comments made during a special meeting on June 15 were behind closed doors, citing the personnel exception to the open meetings act. After the four-hour closed session, the school board declined to reinstate a boys basketball coach who had been dismissed during the regular meeting on June 8, and hired two volleyball coaches, both on split votes.

Because the requests to address the board had been made as requests for “public comments,” the attorney general’s office ruled that the school board “did not provide the public with the opportunity to address its members in open session during its June 15, 2021 meeting.  Rather, the board required the members of the public who signed up for public comment to address the board in closed session.

“Because the Open Meetings Act does not prohibit public comment concerning a public body’s personnel decisions in open session, the board had no authority to bar public comment on retention of the coaches.  The board violated the Open Meetings Act by requiring members of the public to address it during the closed session portion of its June 15, 2021 meeting.”

Since those who addressed the board may have altered their comments because they were made in closed session, “release of the closed session minutes is not an appropriate remedy here,” the attorney general’s office wrote.

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