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Keep the ‘open’ in open meetings

Elected boards and councils in the Sauk Valley need to do a better job of reviewing and releasing closed-session minutes.

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Not all area elected boards and councils conduct timely reviews of their closed-session minutes for possible release to the public.

That is one conclusion of Saturday’s Sauk Valley Media story about open government, “Closed-session minutes rarely released.”

The story stated that some units of government conduct mandatory, twice-a-year reviews of the minutes of secret meetings.

The Dixon City Council recently conducted such a review. So did the Rock Falls City Council and Whiteside County Board.

But other units of government, such as the Sterling City Council and Lee County Board, are behind in conducting their reviews.

Governments are supposed to operate in the open. The Illinois Open Meetings Act lists 26 exceptions where closed meetings are allowed. About half the exceptions apply to the types of government found around here. Other exceptions deal with specific state boards, such as the Prisoner Review Board, or types of issues not faced by local school and municipal boards.

When closed-session minutes are reviewed and released, the public finds out whether their government strays from permitted closed-session topics.

Boards may close meetings to discuss specific employees or the board’s lawyer.

Collective negotiating matters may be discussed privately. So may the discipline or removal of an occupant of a public office, or the appointment of someone to fill a vacant public office.

Buying and leasing real estate, or setting a selling price for public property, may be discussed privately. So may security procedures, student disciplinary cases, and placement of a student in a special education program.

Pending or probable litigation regarding the public body may be talked about in private. So may the minutes of lawfully closed meetings.

When a municipality operates a utility, such as generating and supplying electricity, its board can meet privately to talk about contracts regarding purchase, sale and delivery.

Discussions of weaknesses in internal financial controls and discussions of fraud risks or actual fraud may be discussed privately, as may self-evaluation procedures with representatives of statewide associations.

After the need for confidentiality expires, the regular review, and possible release, of closed-session minutes allows the public to find out what transpired behind closed doors, and whether their unit of government is wisely using, or possibly abusing, its closed sessions.

Elected public servants must not shirk their duty to ensure that the public is fully informed.

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