Two Galesburg aldermen accuse city officials of violating Open Meetings Act

A pair of Galesburg alderman have alleged city officials violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act during two recent Galesburg City Council meetings.

In a joint news release sent out at 5 p.m. Friday by Ward 1 Alderman Bradley Hix and Ward 7 Alderman Larry Cox, the two alderman state they have filed Open Meetings Act violations against Galesburg Mayor Peter Schwartzman and City Manager Gerald Smith. The aldermen say the violations occurred Dec. 5 and 19, and were filed last week with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office of Public Access Bureau.

The news release says: 

The alleged violations occurred during the Executive Sessions of the December 5, 2022 and December 19, 2022 of the city council. The City Council convened into Executive Session for the purpose of discussing the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employees. At the December 5th Executive Session City Manager Gerald Smith outlined the creation of an Assistant City Manager/Director of Public Works position. This position has yet to be created and is a public policy decision rather than a personnel matter. At the December 19th Executive Session City Manager Gerald Smith reviewed salary increases and discussed conducting a compensation survey.

Attorneys from the Public Access Bureau are investigating the potential open meetings act violations.

Galesburg Mayor Peter Schwartzman said Monday that he was unaware of the action taken by Hix and Cox.

“I have not be apprised of anything and I did not hear from either alderman regarding their concern about a violation; so obviously this announcement is very surprising to me.” Schwartzman said. “I just spoke to the city manager, he hasn’t heard of it either.

“An allegation is not a determination of violation … all of this will be directed to our attorneys.”

Hix said he did not notify the city manager or the mayor that he was submitting Open Meetings Act complaints against the city. 

WGIL reached out to the Public Access Counselor Office of the Illinois Attorney General for clarification, however state offices were closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.

As the final item on the Dec. 5 City Council meeting, council members voted to convene into closed door Executive Session for the purpose of discussing:

  1. The appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees, 5 ILCS 120/2 (c)(1) 
  2. B. Approval of the executive session minutes for August 15, August 17, August 24, September 6, and November 14, 2022, 5 ILCS 120/2 (c)(21)

In question from Dec. 5 is whether the council could legally discuss the creation of a position in closed session.

Hix tells WGIL, “After we became aware of the potential violations of the Open Meetings Act, I spoke with an attorney in Springfield and was led to believe that there was a violation, and filing a complaint with the attorney general was the only way to determine that officially.

“I wrote that I was filing an Open Meetings Act violation complaint against the city manager and the mayor of Galesburg. They create the agenda, and they determine what’s on the executive session agenda. 

“It wasn’t the city council members, it wasn’t the city clerk — it was the mayor and city manager who determined they were about to talk about the creation of an assistant city manager/director of public works position. To me, that makes them responsible.”

While the complaints from Hix and Cox singled out the city manager and mayor, violations of the OMA are also investigated against a city body, in this case the city council.

Cox said, “The city manager and the mayor write the agenda, so that’s why the (complaints) were written that way. I participated in those meetings and felt like it wasn’t correct to be discussed in executive sessions, so that’s why I reported one of the meetings.”

Asked if he raised any objection or felt uncomfortable discussing those topics during the meetings, Cox said,  “No, I just didn’t realize it until after the fact.” 

According to the Illinois Attorney General, elected or appointed members of a public body subject to OMA must complete electronic training once during their term of election or appointment.