GENEVA – Closed meeting minutes released this week by the Geneva Public Library board show the board’s internal misgivings about a confidentiality clause in its purchase contract for the Cetron property.
In the fall, the library board decided not to buy the property on Richards Street for a new library site, based on an environmental report. It then refused to release the report.
Officials said the purchase agreement with property owner Dearborn Street Holdings of Chicago states that the library will keep the results of the environmental study confidential.
“Secretary [Susan] Shivers stated that the confidentiality clause in the Cetron contract was wrong,” according to minutes of closed meeting Oct. 24, 2013. “No confidentiality clause should be contained in any future contract.”
Board member Pat Lord agreed.
“Trustee Lord said that we should not have a clause that prevents the release of documents,” according to the minutes. “The bank may have an issue unless a court orders the release of documents.”
Board president Esther Steel said she agreed the information should be released, the minutes show.
“But we are showing good faith in our dealing with the bank and preventing a lawsuit,” Steel said, according to the minutes.
The Cetron purchase agreement was signed only by Steel, not the whole board, because a previous board already had approved buying the property, officials said.
The minutes also reflect that board member Steve Andersson said, “The library is protected if the PAC [Public Access Counselor] allows the release of the documents.”
The library paid Aires Consulting of Batavia more than $21,000 for the environmental studies and a final report.
The Kane County Chronicle filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking a copy of an environmental report last October. After it was denied, the newspaper filed an appeal to the Attorney General Public Access Counselor, which still is pending.
“I think every person on the board would like to release those reports,” Andersson said. “If the PAC says to release it, we’ve done our duty to protect the library … from being sued by violating the confidentiality clause.”
Andersson defended the confidentiality clause because the open records law has exemptions for proprietary or commercial information that could be detrimental to a private business.
“The PAC may differ with me – but that particular exemption has been used for the very purpose we did here,” Andersson said.
Esther Seitz, an attorney who represents Illinois media on open meetings and public records issues, said records relating to funds spent by a public body have to be released.
“The library district’s contract with the bank cannot, via a confidentiality provision, trump state law,” Seitz said.
The library district’s attorney, Roger Ritzman, would not comment about the confidentiality clause.
The closed meeting minutes were released as a result of a Public Access Counselor decision on an Open Meetings Act complaint filed by the Chronicle.
The board majority disagreed with the Public Access Counselor’s decision, but released the minutes. Officials said the board would take action at its next meeting, May 8, to release the audio portion of the meeting.