Taxpayers have a right to know what their local government is voting on. They shouldn’t have to attend every single city council, village board or school board meeting to find out.
Thanks to legislation amending the Illinois Open Meetings Act and signed into law recently by Gov. Pat Quinn, taxpayers at least will have a better idea what their local governmental bodies are voting on simply by reading the agendas.
House Bill 4687 requires local governments’ meeting agendas to set forth the “general subject matter” of any issue that will be up for a final vote. In other words, explain to your constituency what the item up for a vote is about.
Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? When an item is up for a vote at the next meeting, the agenda will let the public know what it’s about. Unfortunately, not all boards and councils work that way.
Bill sponsor Sandra Pihos, R-Glen Ellyn, said the legislation was in response to constituent complaints about agendas being too vague.
In a story that ran in the July 26 edition of the Kane County Chronicle, Pihos said, “... I could show you agenda items that are one-word lines. ‘Revenues.’ I have one agenda item that actually says ‘Rumors.’ ”
Chronicle reporters regularly encounter such vague agenda descriptions.
When first introduced, the bill required agendas to be “sufficiently descriptive,” but lobbying firms representing local governmental bodies – and paid with taxpayer dollars – opposed that earlier version, saying it opened the door to lawsuits from citizens over the interpretation of how descriptive the meeting agenda is.
The bill as voted on, at least, is a step in the right direction. It will allow citizens to file a complaint with the state Public Access Counselor’s Office, which has binding power to enforce the Open Meetings Act.
We welcome the day when such new laws aren’t necessary, when local government is serving the best interests of those it’s supposed to, which is everybody.