Closed-door Metro Zone Meeting Violated Open Meetings Act
The Illinois Attorney General has ruled the City of Bloomington violated the Open Meetings Act. Mayor Tari Renner said the city is likely to appeal the ruling.
GLT learned through a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request in March that McLean County States Attorney Jason Chambers requested an opinion from the Illinois Attorney General's office whether an executive session, or closed-door meeting, on the Metro Zone tax agreement violated the Open Meetings Act. He filed the request based on WGLT reporting and questions from citizens.
While the city cited pending or probable litigation as the reason, Chambers questioned this during an interview in March.
“My initial concern was, seeing in the media (on GLT) where they (City of Bloomington) said they went into executive session for the purposes of discussing pending or imminent litigation, but then there was the statement afterwards of, 'we doubt there’s going to be any lawsuit,'" said Chambers, during an interview with GLT. "Well, how is there pending or imminent litigation if everyone doubts there will be a lawsuit?"
The Illinois Attorney General's office essentially agreed today, stating "Rather than discussing the strategies, posture, theories, and consequences of pending, probable, or imminent litigation, the City Council' s Feb. 20, 2017, closed session discussion focused on its course of action with respect to the Metro Zone Master Agreement."
Renner said Aldermen did touch on the Metro Zone agreement.
"Just the things that Normal did not want to agree to. We went back and forth with Normal with some possibilities and they were not acceptable to Normal," said Renner.
On Feb. 21, GLT reported the city would dissolve its involvement in the Metro Zone. During an open meeting a week later after the executive session, the council voted 7-2 to withdraw from the 30-year-old agreement between the City of Bloomington and the Town of Normal. The agreement shared sales and property tax revenue, as well as infrastructure and service costs on the community's west side.
On March 2, after the Metro Zone executive session meeting, and the open session vote to dissolve the tax agreement, Mayor Renner held a news conference saying that the Mayor of Normal, Chris Koos had threatened a lawsuit. Legal matters is one of six main reasons public bodies can cite to hold a closed door meeting under the Open Meetings Act and Renner said the citing litigation in this instance was appropriate.
"We are currently assessing all of our options and the city is likely to appeal this decision," said Mayor Renner.
An appeal would have to be filed in Cook or Sangamon County within 35 days. The Bloomington City Council would likely discuss an appeal in executive session and Renner said that could happen as early as Monday.
The Attorney General's opinion directs the city to disclose "the closed session verbatim recording" of the Feb. 20 meeting. The recording would not be released until the city decides not to appeal or loses an appeal.
Normal Mayor Chris Koos told WGLT he was not surprised by the decision.
“I was always puzzled that they were able to take a contract into executive session. They claimed they had the grounds to do it. We didn’t particularly see the grounds,” he said. “The city felt they had strong grounds to do that. Obviously the AG has disagreed with that.”
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