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Illinois School Board Journal - ARCHIVES
ASK THE STAFF:
Committees will trigger Open Meetings Act
This issue's question is answered by IASB general counsel Melinda Selbee. You can contact Melinda at email@example.com.
Question: Our board wants to use committees to conduct some feasibility studies. Can we prevent the Open Meetings Act from applying if we appoint only two board members to each committee?
Answer: Your idea will not necessarily prevent the Open Meetings Act's application to the board committees. The Act applies to all board committees. It will be triggered whenever either one of the following occurs: a majority of the committee's quorum meets or three board members gather for committee business.
Understanding which gatherings of school board members trigger the Open Meetings Act is very important. The underlying law is clear: "a 'Meeting' means any gathering of a majority of a quorum of the members of a public body held for the purpose of discussing public business."
This definition of "meeting" exempts any gatherings of school board members when the purpose is anything other than discussing public business. Carpooling to an IASB function or attending a mutual friend's party are examples of functions outside the Open Meeting Act's definition of "meeting." However, even serendipitous gatherings can become a "meeting" if a majority of the board's quorum discusses public business.
The other portion of the Act's definition of "meeting" concerns who is gathering and whether the gathering involves a "majority of a quorum of the members of a public body." A school board is obviously a "public body," but so is a school board committee.
The questioner seeks to prevent the Open Meetings Act from applying to board committees by appointing only two board members to each committee. This question illustrates a common misunderstanding -- the belief that if fewer than a board quorum serves as a committee, the committee need never be concerned with the Open Meetings Act.
A board committee is treated identically to the board itself for purposes of the Open Meetings Act. Regardless of who serves on the committee, a gathering of a majority of the quorum of the board committee to discuss public business triggers the Act.
Assume a board committee consists of three people -- two board members and one non-board member. A committee meeting of any two of these individuals will trigger the Open Meetings Act. This means one committee member cannot phone or e-mail another member about committee business without violating the Act.
While a board committee is clearly a "public body" under the Open Meetings Act, a superintendent's committee is not. The Open Meetings Act generally does not cover superintendent or staff committees. The features distinguishing a superintendent committee from a board committee are generally control issues: Who creates the committee? Who appoints the committee members? To whom does the committee report? This is a fact-sensitive inquiry.
Even when a committee is clearly a superintendent's committee, there are times when it must comply with the Open Meetings Act. Assume a superintendent's committee of 50 people, three of whom are current board members. When the three board members gather to work on committee business, the Open Meetings Act is triggered. This is true even if a quorum of the superintendent's committee is not present because a majority of a board quorum met to discuss public business.
Local board policy on committees should provide the structure for the creation and operation of committees. School boards with specific legal questions about committee operation and the Open Meetings Act should seek a legal opinion from the district attorney.
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