Urbana library meeting allegedly violated law twice

Urbana library meeting allegedly violated law twice

Board resumed open session with doors locked, took actions not listed on agenda

URBANA — A spokesman for the Illinois attorney general's office and an attorney for the Illinois Press Association say the Urbana Free Library board apparently violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act twice in the same meeting this week.

"According to the Open Meetings Act, what they did appears to be in direct violation of the law," Scott Mulford, a spokesman for the Illinois attorney general's office, said on Friday.

The apparent violations took place when the board reconvened following a closed session on Wednesday night.

News-Gazette reporter Patrick Wade said the building was closed during the closed session and was not reopened when the meeting reconvened. With the building locked, the general public could not attend the reconvened open meeting.

Mulford said holding the open part of the meeting in a locked building would constitute a violation of the part of the law that states, "All meetings of public bodies shall be open to the public."

Esther Seitz, an attorney with the Illinois Press Association, said the library board violated the Open Meetings Act by making part of the open portion of the meeting inaccessible for the public.

"The fact that the meeting room was locked and physically inaccessible and impossible for the public to enter the open portion of the public body's meeting essentially closes it, and that also constitutes an Open Meetings Act violation," she said.

Seitz cited the case of Gerwin v. Livingston County Board, in which a county board held a meeting in a room that allowed space for only 13 members of the general public to attend when more than 150 people were attempting to attend. The court ultimately nullified actions taken at that meeting.

"This situation is worse than that," Seitz said.

Library board Vice President Chris Scherer said the building was locked at 9 p.m. and that the board did not reconvene in open session until just before midnight, but it remained locked.

"There was nobody there by that time," Scherer said.

Mulford said the Urbana Library Board also apparently violated the Open Meetings Act by taking action during the reconvened open session that was not listed on the agenda.

Library board President Mary Ellen Farrell sent out the following in an email after the meeting:

"After the closed session we moved into Open Session and approved the following:

"A public statement will be issued:

"We are encouraged that people are involved and share our love and concern for Urbana Free Library. We've heard you, and the Board is in the process of addressing the issues you have raised over the last week. To protect the privacy of individuals, please respect our process and understand that we are taking steps. As we make progress we will keep you informed.

"The Board directs that all weeding activities and shipping of materials off library premises cease immediately.

"Urbana Free Library will reopen the strategic planning process, complete a draft strategic plan, and make that plan available to the community for a reasonable period of time for their review and comment.

"The Board directs the Executive Director to explore the feasibility of televising future Board meetings. Results of this feasibility study will be reported at the next regular Board meeting in July."

Mulford said the actions described in the email are an apparent violation of the Open Meetings Act because the actions taken were not listed on the agenda.

Mulford said the act requires that all final action "must be preceded by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and any other information that will inform the public of the business being considered."

"The fact that the agenda did not specifically provide for an item on which the board ended up taking action would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act," Seitz said.

Seitz noted the case of Rice v. Board of Trustees of Adams County, in which the court declared null and void an action taken by the Adams County Board that wasn't specifically listed in the agenda.

"The same thing could happen here if somebody files suit based on the violation," Seitz said.

Scherer referred questions about the actions taken when the meeting reconvened to Urbana City Attorney James Simon. The News-Gazette was unable to reach Simon on Friday night.

Urbana resident Tom Moone, who had attended the meeting until the board voted to go into closed session, said he did not know the board took additional action in open session after that.

"I would have liked to have that part of the meeting open for people to attend it," Moone said on Friday. "I don't think it is an open session if the building is locked. If the building is closed, how can the meeting be open?"

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pattsi wrote on June 22, 2013 at 12:06 pm

As of 1 Jan 2012, each individual appointed to a public board must  take the 63 page online training for the OMA, resulting in a certificate that is supposed to be keep on file by the public entity. If an individual is one more than one public board, the online training needs to be done only once. For elected individuals, the same applies unless one is elected to more than one body of government, then the individual has to do the training for each situation.

katemcdowell wrote on June 22, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I had questions about this at the time of the meeting.  As a former staff member present and involved with committees during the building design, it is my recollection that the auditorium was designed to be able to allow for public meetings that would extend beyond library hours, with its own separate restrooms and entrances/exits.  The doors to the downstairs hall would have to be locked, but it should be possible unless something architectural was changed.  Of course, with so many unanswered questions still pending, it's vital to keep these processes as open as possible.

pattsi wrote on June 22, 2013 at 6:06 pm

For those interested in the OMA and have questions about such, Sarah Pratt, the Public Access Counselor in the AG Office of OMA and FOIA will make a presentation on 9 July @ 10-11:30 A in the Robeson Room, Champaign Public Library. This is open to the public.

Bin44 wrote on June 23, 2013 at 5:06 pm


They are trying to rectify a situation that could cost the the town/library much in lawsuits/buying out Ms. Lissak's contract. You all should be grateful they are trying to figure out a solution to this mess. And you all should be grateful that Ms. Lissak is a very private person with no hidden agenda. She is dedicated to the library even when the public is throwing her under the bus. But if I were her, I would so hire a lawyer to make sure she "says the right things to please the public" and I would also make sure they pay me $ for creating a hostile work environment that slandered my name and made me an ineffective manager in the future. There was a board member involved in this. Not to mention what really went on with the weeding. FYI - she has been at work all weekend continuing to proceed with the many projects the library has going and to reassure her loyal staff that she won't leave them hanging (doing this while she is on personal leave - her choice because the media was harassing her) making sure nothing fall through the cracks - a much better person than I would be considering the circumstances and the

way she has been treated. That is her work ethic.