CONGERVILLE – Mary Truax thought the impromptu meeting was peculiar, and questioned it.
The Woodford County Zoning Board of Appeals’ chairman described it as a “recess.”
But if the Illinois Attorney General’s Office is made aware of a private meeting among the members of the board before they voted on a wind farm permit Thursday, it could be considered illegal.
Before the panel voted to recommend that the Woodford County Board approve a special use permit to allow a wind farm near Carlock, they met privately to discuss their recommendation.
People who attended Thursday’s meeting said the brief session was held without any motion indicating there was going to be an executive meeting, as required by Illinois’ Open Meetings Act.
“They had this ‘off-the-record’ discussion happening,” said Truax of rural Carlock. “They didn’t state any reason why they couldn’t go out of an open meeting.”
Added Jennifer Cole: “They got up as a group and walked into the corner of the gym. I don’t think it fulfills the Open Meetings Act.”
Bob Harbers, chairman of the zoning board, said nothing “underhanded” occurred, but he did admit to meeting with the board privately before voting publicly on the permit.
He said the zoning board had been advised what they were doing was OK, although no representative with the Woodford County State’s Attorney’s Office was at the meeting.
“We went behind our chairs a few feet,” Harbers said of the private meeting, which was held while a large crowd at Congerville Elementary School watched. “We were in a recess mode for a couple of minutes. We did some changes we thought were for the betterment of the community.”
Under Illinois law, public bodies, before meeting privately in an executive session, must publicly cite the reason why they want the private session. Each member of the board then has to vote on that motion.
“A public body can go into a closed session during a regular scheduled meeting as long as the reason they can go is permitted,” said Terry Mutchler, public access counselor with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office. “If the majority of the quorum of the public body is chatting about business in the corner, they are still subject to (Open Meetings Act). If they are not doing it properly, it may be a problem.”
There are about two dozen reasons why a public body can go into a closed session, said Mutchler and Illinois Press Association attorney Don Craven.
The most common reasons a public body goes into a closed session is for discussions on personnel, pending litigation and land acquisitions.
Mutchler said Madigan’s office has not been made aware of the meeting, but if contacted, they would look into it.
“All we need is someone to send us something in writing that this is what happened,” she said.
By John Sharp of the Journal Star
John Sharp can be reached at 686-3234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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