For instance, we know that all people present at an open meeting must be able to hear all deliberations (conversations) and votes occurring during an open public meeting. Now we are presented with the situation of board members “deliberating” through the use of text messages which by their very nature are “secret” and cannot be heard by the public, or other board members for that matter, during an open public meeting.
As advocates for open government, we suggest private text messaging during public meetings should be considered a violation of the Open Meetings Act since the audience and other board members cannot contemporaneously hear those written deliberations. See the Open Meetings Act, Section 7(e)(4) specifically for electronic meetings.
Former Illinois Attorney General Kerner said it best 87 years ago and was quoted by the Second Appellate Court in 1981: ““Of what avail is an open door to the public if the proceedings are secret. The eye can see, the ear can hear, but secrecy conceals all.” Attorney General Kerner (1933). and “Anyone who is unwilling to subject himself to such criticism by the public should not accept public office or membership of a public board. The public has a right to know how their public officials and representatives vote on issues, not only so they may try to persuade them to change their position or congratulate them on actions they have taken, but also that they may have the necessary information to decide whether they want to retain that person in public office.”
Actions like secret voting (communications) during meetings further deteriorates the public’s confidence in government and works to undermine the vary bases of representative democracy – AG Kerner.
Madison County Board Members Send Secret Text Messages During April 16, 2020 Board Meeting
EDWARDSVILLE – In a lawsuit against the Madison County Board, former Madison County Administrator Doug Hulme and IT Director Rob Dorman are asking a judge to look at texts and communications of county board members that appear to be circumventing the Illinois Open Meeting Act during the April 16th, 2020 county board meeting that resulted in their termination.
Freedom of Information requests by Hulme and Dorman for county board members communications during the April 16th meeting, have resulted in a response by county board member and Madison County Republican Party Chairman Ray Wesley (R – Godfrey) of texts during the meeting with Chrissy Dutton-Wiley (R – Wood River) and David Michael (R – Highland) to Wesley’s cellphone.
David Michael is a candidate for Madison County Auditor.
The texts include questions to Madison County Transit (MCT) attorney Andy Carruthers.
David Michael – “Voting to come back in”
Andy Carruthers – “What does relieve of duties mean”
David Michael – “I assume he meant terminate”
Andy Carruthers – “That’s unclear. If someone’s trying to terminate them then that should be the motion.”
David Micheal – “Andy are you listening to this? Is this normal?”
Chrissy Dutton – “What if they slipped something in there?? I want to read it. Am I wrong?”
David Michael – “No, I agree. We should have been given that ahead of time. This is why I don’ trust these jamokes.”
Additional freedom of information requests by Hulme and Dorman of the county board’s text and email communications during the meeting have been denied by the county board and will be a focus of the ongoing lawsuit.
According to the Illinois 4th District Appellate Court ruling in City of Champaign vs. Madigan, board members communications through text messaging or by other electronic means are subject to review by the public through the Freedom of Information Act.
Former County Administrator Doug Hulme says that all elected county board members are required to complete Illinois Open Meetings Act training through the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the same office that cleared Hulme and Dorman of any wrongdoing, and says there is no excuse for members to be violating the law.