Did the Galesburg Community Center Task Force follow proper procedures at its final meeting? According to city administration, city legal counsel, and general counsel for the Illinois Broadcasters Association, the answer is yes.
Several citizens — including a pair of Knox County Board members in attendance — spoke during public comment and accused the Task Force of violating the Open Meetings Act at the Nov. 21 meeting at Carl Sandburg College’s Crist Student Center.
At question was the Task Force’s decision to amend an agenda item labeled: “Community Center Task Force Consolidated Report — Discussion and Consideration.”
A majority of the 13-member Task Force made a motion to dismiss the Community Center Task Force Consolidated Report compiled by Chairman Tony Franklin in favor of a proposal favored by the majority.
Franklin then left the meeting in protest after the Task Force would not allow him to make his presentation. According to city administration, Franklin did not resign from the Task Force. He has declined comment to WGIL.
The Task Force eventually voted 10-1 with one abstention to adopt a proposal that would include utilizing both the Knox County YMCA and the soon-to-be former Galesburg Public Library as a multi-site community center option. (Franklin’s report and the adopted proposal are attached below.)
Knox County Board members Pam Davidson and Sam Cohen, speaking during public comment Nov. 21, each accused the Task Force of violating the Open Meetings Act, saying the board acted on something that was not on the agenda.
Another citizen commented that what the Task Force did was “very against the law.”
Davidson said she was going to file a complaint with the state, but Drew Hill, Deputy Press Secretary for the Office of the Illinois Attorney, tells WGIL, “We have not received any recent OMA-related complaints against the City of Galesburg or the Community Center Task Force.”
So, did the Community Center Task Force violate the Open Meetings Act last week?
City legal and administration say what committee did was ‘acceptable’
Legal counsel for the city believes the Task Force was in its rights to amend the agenda item and approve a proposal that differed from Franklin’s report.
In a statement provided to WGIL, legal counsel writes:
The city’s legal counsel was consulted and the agenda item was determined to be sufficiently descriptive to advise the public of the actions being taken by the task force regardless of which report would ultimately be sent to City Council. For all boards subject to the Open Meetings Act (OMA), the agenda is required only to identify the general subject matter subject to final action at the meeting, not specific language which will ultimately be voted upon. Here, the agenda item to consider, which encompasses actions such as voting, the consolidated report was sufficient for the task force to consider any floor amendments to the report, which is what occurred.
Galesburg City Clerk Kelli Bennewitz tells WGIL, “There is nothing which prevents a public body from considering something and making amendments to the text during the public meeting. This amendment was in the same vein as the listed agenda item, so it was acceptable.
“It was our assumption that the Task Force would be discussing and considering (voting) on a report/proposal that would be submitted to the City Council. Both legal and administration were in discussions on the agenda and any probable action that would be taken prior to the meeting.”
Is the Task Force a ‘public body’?
In its statement to WGIL, city legal counsel said it previously provided the opinion that the Community Center Task Force is not a public body within the meaning of OMA and is not bound by OMA — a claim disputed by the general counsel for the Illinois Broadcasters Association and Illinois Press Association.
In a statement provided to WGIL, city legal counsel wrote:
The city has opted for the Community Center Task Force to follow the OMA structure to provide transparency and follow typical procedures; however, legal counsel has previously provided the opinion that the task force is not a public body within the meaning of OMA and is not bound by OMA. The task force is an ad hoc group without significant formality, no pay, no budget, no resolution or ordinance creating or regulating the task force, no control by or accountability to the government, and no automatic impact of any decisions or recommendations made. Any recommendation provided by the community center task force is not a final action but rather a recommendation shared with the City Council. Therefore, the task force is not bound to OMA requirements.
Don Craven, general counsel for the Illinois Broadcasters Association and Illinois Press Association, however, contends the Task Force is indeed a public body.
“The Task Force is an advisory body to the city and the definition of a public body in the Open Meetings Act clearly includes advisory bodies,” Craven said. “It’s pretty cut and dry.”
According to the OMA statute for the State of Illinois:
“Public body” includes all legislative, executive, administrative or advisory bodies of the State, counties, townships, cities, villages, incorporated towns, school districts and all other municipal corporations, boards, bureaus, committees or commissions of this State, and any subsidiary bodies of any of the foregoing including but not limited to committees and subcommittees which are supported in whole or in part by tax revenue, or which expend tax revenue, except the General Assembly and committees or commissions thereof.
“So, I agree with the opinion that the Task Force handled the agenda correctly, but disagree with the opinion that the Task Force is not a public body,” Craven said.
It is anticipated that the City Council will receive a report from the Community Center Task Force at Monday’s City Council meeting.
The following document is the proposal the Task Force approved and is expected to be presented to the City Council.
The following document is the report compiled by Chairman Tony Franklin that the Task Force amended in favor of the majority’s proposal.