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Illinois Politics

Lisa Madigan Investigates Pontiac School District 429


(Springfield, IL) — April 20, 2010. Attorney General Lisa Madigan is investigating two separate complaints that the board of Pontiac School District 429 did not comply with the state’s open meetings laws.

One of those complaints, filed by former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy, concerned two school board meetings held this Feb. 1 and Feb. 18. The other was an anonymous complaint concerning the Feb. 18 meeting.

Under the state’s Open Meetings Act, taxpayer-funded bodies such as school boards must conduct their meetings in public. But those bodies may conduct a portion of their meeting behind closed doors if they discuss exempted topics.

Exempted topics include the hiring and firing of personnel, contract negotiations and property acquisition.

McCoy said the school board should have been more detailed on why they closed off a portion of the meeting to the public.

“When you list a closed session, let’s say it’s for property acquisition, it would be closed session for the purposes of property acquisition. What the school board has done repeatedly for years is simply list all of the possible exemptions for closed session,” he said. “Even if they go in to talk about one of (the exemptions), they list all of them, all of the time. That, in itself, does not allow the public to know what they are discussing,” he said.

The Pontiac school board’s minutes stated that the school board went into closed session to discuss personnel matters, collective bargaining, student discipline and pending litigation, all exemptions allowed by the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Jeff Funk, attorney for the school district, said the school board complied with the state’s Open Meetings Act.

“The reasons that the board entered into closed session in that meeting were set forth in the agenda and those in fact were proper reasons and were all discussed in closed session,” Funk said.

In response to the complaints, Funk said the district has submitted recorded tape of closed school board discussions and sworn testimony from board members to the state’s Attorney General’s office.

In Feb. 2009, a group that included former Pontiac mayor McCoy filed a complaint against the Pontiac SD 429 school board for not complying with the state’s Open Meetings Act.

The Attorney General’s office conducted an investigation and issued a warning later that year to the school board.

In May 2009, state lawmakers passed and Governor Pat Quinn signed into law changes to the state’s Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act.

The sweeping changes went into effect this year and included the creation of a Public Access Counselor to resolve disputes.

Scott Mulford, spokesman for the state’s Attorney General’s office, said he expected the Public Access Counselor to rule on both current disputes with Pontiac SD 429 within the next two months.

Kevin Lee–Illinois Statehouse News

About David Ormsby

David, a public relations consultant and Huffington Post blogger, is an ex-Press Secretary of the Illinois Democratic Party.

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