The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers
Open Meetings Act-A convenient place lies somewhere between a broom closet and a football stadium
Gerwin v. Livingston County Board, 280 Ill. Dec. 485 (2003)
Gerwin involved an action by a citizen alleging that a meeting held by the defendant was in violation of the Open Meetings Act because it held a meeting at a location that was not convenient to the public. The Open Meetings Act requires that all meetings "shall be held at specified times and places which are convenient and open to the public." The trial court granted motions to dismiss the Complaint, which upon appeal was reversed since plaintiff stated a cause of action.
The room where the meeting was held apparently had a capacity of 49 persons under the fire code. The Complaint alleged that more than 150 people attempted to attend the meeting. In addition, it was alleged that the defendant knew at least seven (7) days in advance of the meeting that large numbers of the public would like to attend and yet defendant made no arrangements to accommodate prospective attendees.
The appellate court held that plaintiffs have pleaded that the meeting was not entirely open, at least to the extent of plaintiff's allegation that the defendant gave preferential admission to supporters of the landfill expansion under discussion. The trial court further held that nullification of the vote taken at that meeting is a remedy discretionary with the trial court. The court found no cases to assist it in determining the definition of "convenient," but noted that the dictionary definition of "convenient" means "suited to personal comfort or to easy performance or affording accommodation or advantage." It further noted that the concept of public convenience seems to imply a rule of reasonableness, not absolute accessibility but reasonable accessibility. "In the present case a convenient meeting place lies somewhere between the extremes of a broom closet and a football stadium. Just where it lay on that spectrum was an issue of fact that the trial court should not have resolved on the pleadings." The appellate court thus reversed the trial court.
This article was originally published in the ISBA's Local Government Law newsletter, April 2004, Vol. 40, No. 7, and is reprinted with permission.