CAMBRIDGE -- Public officials need to be careful they're not violating the Open Meetings Act with emails, said Henry County State's Attorney Terry Patton.|
In answer to an inquiry from a county board member, Mr. Patton said public officials can receive mass mailings from other officials without running the risk of violating the Open Meetings Act -- up until the point where they hit the "reply all" button.
Mr. Patton said, "You don't stop and think about the Open Meetings Act when you're shooting off an email," he said, adding that public officials need to be doing so.
He said that, after a mass email has been sent, if just one person hits "reply all," then all of a sudden a meeting is taking place.
He said two people can go back and forth with emails all day, but mass emails with "reply all" messages would constitute violations of the Open Meetings Act.
"If everybody's having a conversation with everyone else, then you're discussing in an open meeting," he said.
Don Craven, general counsel to the Illinois Press Association, agreed that officials need to be careful. The issue of mass emailings is an evolving legal topic, he said.
He noted the Open Meetings Act does not require all members of a body to be present, only a majority of a quorum. The list of who is on the email string needs to be less than a majority of a quorum to avoid the risk of violating the law, he said.
"I take the position that if a string of emails shows an effort to build a consensus without public discussion, the Act is violated," Mr. Craven said. "So, even a discussion A to B to C to D could be a violation if the subject is public business and you get to a majority of a quorum."
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