The LaHarpe City Council held a closed session last fall that was in violation of the Open Meetings Act, the Illinois Attorney General’s public access counselor recently determined, according to the Edgar County Watchdogs (ECW).
The issue stems from a September 2016 meeting during which the council entered a closed session to discuss a dispute with the mayor over water/sewer bills. ECW co-founder John Kraft requested a review of the session, as the council is required to hold its meetings in public except under very specific circumstances. The council argued that it went into a closed session because it was discussing potential litigation.
“The litigation exception does not allow a public body to conduct deliberations on the merits of a matter under consideration merely because it may become a party to a judicial proceeding,” Neil Olson, wrote deputy public access counsel, said in the determination letter that the ECW posted on its Illinois Leaks website. “This Office has reviewed the recording of the closed session. Although a small part of the discussion concerned the strategies and potential consequences of the litigation itself, much of the discussion involved how to resolve the underlying issue about water billing…Accordingly, this office concludes that the discussion exceeded the scope permitted by [the OMA].”
The bureau also found that the council violated a section of the law requiring it to officially find that litigation is probably or imminent before using the litigation exception to enter closed session. The bureau has told the council to release the portions of the closed session that are not covered under the exception.