Legislative Update: Local Government Travel Expense Control Act (P.A. 99-604)

Effective January 1, 2017, many public agencies (defined as school districts, community college districts, and units of local government other than home-rule units) will be required to formally adopt policies regulating the reimbursement of travel, meal, and lodging expenses. Such policies must be approved by ordinance or resolution and must, at a minimum, address the following: (1) the types of official business for which travel, meal, and lodging reimbursements will be allowed; (2) establish maximum allowable reimbursements; and (3) provide a standardized form for the submission of such reimbursements. Any expense incurred above the maximum allowable amount or incurred by a member of the governing board must be approved by roll call vote at an open meeting of the public body.

The Act also provides requirements for the contents of the public agency’s standardized reimbursement forms. Specifically, all forms containing a request for reimbursement under the policy must be submitted in writing and must include: (1) an estimate of the cost of travel, meals, or lodging (if the expenses have not yet been incurred) or receipts documenting the cost of travel, meals, or lodging (if the expenses have already been incurred); (2) the name of the individual who is requesting the expense reimbursement; (3) the job title/office of the individual who is requesting the travel reimbursement; and (4) the date(s) and nature of the official business for which the reimbursement is being requested.  The Act also explicitly provides that any forms submitted pursuant to the act are public records subject to the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).

In addition to the above-cited requirements, the Act also requires that public agencies refrain from reimbursing “entertainment expenses” including those for shows, amusements, theaters, circuses, sporting events, or other public or private entertainment, unless such expense is ancillary to the purpose of the reimbursable program or event.

If you would like further information about this Act, and how it may affect you as a public body, please contact Peter K. Wilson, Jr, Steven A. Andersson, Jessica L. Briney, or Laura M. Julien, of Mickey, Wilson, Weiler, Renzi & Andersson, P.C., 2111 Plum Street, Suite 201, Aurora, Illinois 60506. Telephone Number: 630-801-9699, or by E-mail at: pkw@mickeywilson.com;  saa@mickeywilson.com; jlb@mickeywilson.com; and lmj@mickeywilson.com

By:  Laura M. Julien

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Reversal of Attorney General PAC Opinions Upheld by Fourth District Appellate Court

Case Law Alert: Open Meetings Act

Reversal of Attorney General PAC Opinions Upheld by Fourth District Appellate Court

On December 15, 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld the Circuit Court’s reversal of at least two binding public access counselor (“PAC”) opinions issued by the Attorney General of Illinois (“AG”) with regard to purported Open Meetings Act (“OMA”) violations in Bd. of Educ. of Springfield Sch. Dist. 186 v. Attorney Gen. of Illinois & Molly Beck.

The underlying action arose when the Board of Education of Springfield School District No. 186 (“School Board”) acted to terminate the Superintendent’s employment. Prior to acting on the Superintendent’s termination in open session, the School Board convened in closed session to review and sign (but not date) the Superintendent’s separation agreement. It was undisputed that the topic of the closed session, the termination of personnel, was appropriate to discuss in this forum. Following its review of the agreement, the School Board then reconvened into open session and voted upon the Superintendent’s termination and approved the separation agreement, which was passed by a 6-1 vote. Following its approval in open session, a date was added to the separation agreement next to the trustees’ signatures.

A reporter, acting on behalf of a local newspaper, challenged the School Board’s actions on two separate grounds. First, it was alleged that signing the separation agreement during closed session constituted impermissible “action” by the School Board. This argument was supported by the premise that the act of signing the agreement was the equivalent of approving the agreement, in violation of OMA which provides that the action of all public bodies must occur during open session. The AG agreed, stating that the act of signing the document “did constitute the taking of a final action in violation of section 2(e) of [OMA]” and issued a binding opinion to that effect.

Upon instruction of the circuit court, the AG addressed a second issue, namely, whether the School Board’s subsequent vote in open session constituted a ratification of its prior action. The AG found that it did not, because it “failed to adequately inform the public of the nature of the matter under consideration or the business being conducted.” Specifically, it was argued that the item, which appeared under the heading “roll call action items” and entitled “Approval of a Resolution Regarding the Agreement Between Superintendent Milton and the Board,” was not sufficient to “provide the public with information from which it might comprehend the purpose and effect of the Board’s action.” The PAC then issued its second binding opinion. The circuit court, in two separate proceedings, disagreed with the AG and found in favor of the School Board and determined that no OMA violations had occurred. The news reporter and AG appealed both determinations.

The appellate court addressed both issues. First, it reviewed the issue of whether a trustee’s signature on a document executed during a closed board session constituted a violation of OMA. The court found that it did not. Citing Howe v. Retirement Board of the Fireman’s Annuity & Benefit Fund, 2013 IL App (1st) 122446, the court noted that “no public body in Illinois subject to the *** Act can take final action by merely circulating some document for signature and not voting on it publicly.” It further noted that it has long been understood that Section 2 [of OMA] prohibits any final action being taken in closed session and it has long been held that a board convening to closed session was inconsequential so long as the ultimate vote was taken in open session (See also, Jewell v. Board of Education, 19 Ill. App. 3d 1091, 1094-95 (“the fact that there were two votes taken, one at the closed and one at the open session, should not be considered a violation of the act. The crucial fact is that the final vote was taken in open session”).

Addressing the second issue, the court examined whether notice was properly posted, and specifically, whether the item, as listed on the agenda was sufficient to be acted upon. The court held that it was. The relevant statute provides the following with regard to final action: “No final action may be taken at a closed meeting. Final action shall be preceded by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and other information that will inform the public of business being conducted.”

Upon examination of the Board’s website, the court located the agenda, which listed the item as “Approval of a Resolution Regarding the… Agreement… between… Milton and the Board” as well as a link to a copy of the proposed agreement. It found this to be sufficient notice to the public and rejected the AG’s reliance on legislative intent (“where statutory language is clear and unambiguous – as in this instance – we need not resort to extrinsic evidence to aid our analysis.”).

By: Laura M. Julien

If you have any questions concerning the Open Meetings Act, Freedom of Information Act, or any other issues concerning public bodies, please contact Peter K. Wilson, Bernard K. Weiler, Steven A. Andersson, Jessica L. Briney, or Laura M. Julien, of Mickey, Wilson, Weiler, Renzi & Andersson, P.C., 2111 Plum Street, Suite 201, Aurora, Illinois 60506. Telephone Number:630-801-9699, or by E-mail at: pkw@mickeywilson.com; bkw@mickeywilson.com; saa@mickeywilson.com; jlb@mickeywilson.com; and lmj@mickeywilson.com.