Monday, April 6, 2020

Public Body - open meetings

One of my issues with the last Richland 2 School Board meeting is that there was not a quorum present at the meeting. Of course, the public didn't know that until nearly the end of the meeting. Without a legal quorum, the School Board cannot meet and conduct business, which it did.

All seven board members, including the two Trustees-elect (who have never been legally sworn in), were accounted for. I contend that the law requires a quorum in person. At the March 31, 2020 meeting two trustees (Manning and Shadd) were present in person; the other five phoned in.

And the public was excluded from the meeting, as I understand it. I did not attend, so I cannot witness that no member of the public was present or attempted to attend.

Shortly after the open meeting resumed at 6:00PM, Board Chair James Manning announced that some of the board members were attending by phone. Was he being careful not to mention whom or how many?

Toward the end of the meeting, when it was time for Board & Superintendent Comments, he announced that he would start with those who were attending by phone. Trustees Agostini, Elkins-Johnson and Caution-Parker made their comments. Trustees-elect McKie and Holmes made their comments. Shadd passed. Then the superintendent and Chair Manning had their say.

That was the first time that the public learned, via audio livestream, that five were not present.

Board Policy allows for telephonic attendance - under certain conditions. A pandemic is not one of them. The Board should have heard and voted on a motion at the beginning of the meeting about the special circumstances, but it didn't. And no board member said why she was attending remotely.

And the board never officially and legally resumed the open meeting, which would be done by a vote. But it never does that so, in that sense, resuming the open session (after the Executive Session) was not unusual. Not unusual, but wrong. Voting in private to adjourn the executive session is not equivalent to re-entering open session.

How is the remote attendance at a meeting of a public body being handled elsewhere?

In northern Illinois the Algonquin Village Board announced "Pursuant to Governor Pritzker’s Executive Order No. 2020-07 (COVID-19 Executive Order No. 5), Governor Pritzker has suspended certain rules of the Open Meetings Act – specifically the Executive Order permits remote public meetings."

The Village of Algonquin arranged to use Zoom to disclose fully to the public how its meeting was being conducted. Zoom provides video, not just audio.

I'm pretty sure that offers live video-conferencing. Why didn't Richland 2 choose that?

Should the Richland 2 premier school district increase its transparency?