The state’s Public Access Bureau determined this month the Rock Island-Milan School District violated the Open Meetings Act at its April 9 school board meeting.
A reporter for Dispatch/Argus raised concerns during the April 9 meeting when board members moved to closed session and allowed then-board member Kevin Nolan to attend the closed session by phone without notifying the public. Then-interim superintendent Robert Lagerblade agreed after the board returned to open session that Nolan would not vote on the closed session matter and Nolan then disconnected from the meeting. Nolan did not seek reelection in 2019.
A complaint was filed by the paper April 11 with the Office of Attorney General asking for a review of the board’s actions and a determination of any Open Meetings Act violations.
Rock Island-Milan school officials responded to the complaint on May 2, asserting no Open Meetings Act violation took place because Nolan was absent due to work-related purposes and likened the situation to a board member physically arriving at a board meeting during the closed session and then participating for the remainder of the meeting.
The Public Access Bureau issued its decision on the review June 6, stating it disagreed with the board’s explanation because the Open Meetings Act “twice specifies that majority approval (by the board) is a prerequisite” for board attendance.
The bureau states the Open Meetings Act requires a majority of the board take action to agree to permit a member of the public body to join a meeting by audio or video conference as an action in open session. It goes on to state, “By not taking measures to permit Mr. Nolan to join its deliberations until closed session, the Board did not act with the requisite openness during its April 9, 2019, meeting.”
Because the district responded to the concerns raised by the reporter during the April 9 meeting, and Nolan’s participation ended at that time, the state has determined no remedial action or binding opinion is necessary. The letter states, “This office reminds the board that all actions, including allowing a board member to participate in a meeting by audio or video conference, must be taken openly.”
A separate access complaint was filed by Dispatch/Argus regarding the Feb. 12 Rock Island-Milan school board meeting. The request for review was filed after the executive assistant to the superintendent notified Dispatch-Argus the Feb. 12 agenda would be curtailed to only blanket items due to inclement weather. Instead, board members took action on blanket items and approved the hiring of the high school principal. Due to the prior notification, Dispatch-Argus did not send a reporter to the meeting and was absent for this board action.
The district’s response to this complaint was the executive assistant was under the impression, based on communications with board members and weather conditions, that limited agenda items would be considered. District counsel conveyed an apology for the miscommunication but stated this was not a basis for an Open Meetings Act violation.
In this matter, the Public Access Bureau determined May 2 there was no indication that the inaccurate information was intended to limit public access to the meeting and that available information indicated this was an “inadvertent miscommunication.”