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Appeals Court: Bloomington Violated Open Meetings Act

Empty chair at Bloomington mayor's seat
Eric Stock
/
WGLT
Bloomington violated the Open Meetings Act, according to a ruling from the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court.

An Illinois appellate court has ruled the City of Bloomington violated the Open Meetings Act in 2017 when the city council convened behind closed doors to discuss terminating a tax-sharing agreement with Normal.The unanimous 3-0 ruling issued Monday by the Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield agrees with a previous binding opinion the Illinois Attorney Gneral’s Office, and reverses a lower court ruling.

The appellate court ruled the city council did not follow the rules for a closed session because it did not discuss “probable or imminent litigation,” which was the stated reason for convening the meeting. Bloomington was exploring whether to end the Metro Zone agreement, a west-side tax-sharing pact the city ultimately terminated.

According to the court, there was no pending litigation for the city to discuss. Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner told reporters after the closed session the city didn’t anticipate a lawsuit. That prompted then-McLean County State’s Attorney Jason Chambers to ask the AG’s office for a ruling on the legality of the meeting.

"How is there pending or imminent litigation if everyone doubts there will be a lawsuit?” Chambers said to WGLT in 2017.

According to the court’s review of an audio recording from the closed meeting, the city council discussed two main options: coming to a joint resolution with Normal ,or unilaterally ending the pact that had lasted for three decades. One council member thought a lawsuit would be a “minor issue,” but the threat of a lawsuit could be a “negotiating tactic.” Several council members discussed how terminating the agreement with the town would look politically.

“The only court the group seemed concerned with was the court of public opinion,” Justice Peter Cavanagh wrote.

Two weeks after the closed-door meeting, Renner announced at a news conference Normal Mayor Chris Koos had threatened to sue the city if it ended the agreement.

The city sought an administrative review after the AG’s ruling in 2017.

City administration has not responded to WGLT’s request for comment regarding the appellate court decision.

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