How Does the Illinois Open Meetings Act Affect the Zoning Approval Process?

Whether you are seeking a zoning variance, a zoning map amendment (rezoning), or a special use permit, it’s important to know the legal requirements for conducting a public meeting. Understanding the Illinois Open Meetings Act allows you and your team to advocate more confidently and effectively before administrative, quasi-legislative, and quasi-judicial bodies and to object to procedural irregularities and missteps.

What is the Illinois Open Meetings Act?

The Illinois Open Meetings Act (“OMA” or “Act”) grants the public with the right to be informed about the conduct of public business as well as the conduct of their own business. The intent of the Act is to ensure that deliberations and actions of public bodies are taken openly.

Pursuant to the Act, the public must be given advance notice of, and the right to attend, all meetings at which any business of a public body is discussed or acted upon in any way. There are exceptions to the public’s right to attend meetings, but those exceptions are limited and strictly construed to specific situations provided in the Act. 5 ILCS 120/1. Some exceptions from the open meeting requirement include the following: appointments, employment, compensation, collective bargaining, purchase or lease of real property for the use of the public body, and litigation. 5 ILCS 120/2(c).

What constitutes a “meeting” under the Illinois Open Meetings Act?

Under the OMA, a “meeting” is “any gathering, whether in person or by video or audio conference, telephone call, electronic means (such as, without limitation, electronic mail, electronic chat, and instant messaging), or other means of contemporaneous interactive communication, of a majority of a quorum of the members of a public body held for the purpose of discussing public business or, for a 5-member public body, a quorum of the members of a public body held for the purpose of discussing public business.” 5 ILCS 120/1.02. In People v. Barr, the Illinois Supreme Court held that when 9 members out of a 15-member board met to discuss public business in advance of their regularly scheduled meeting, they held a meeting in violation of the OMA. 83 Ill.2d 191 (1980).

Which public entities are subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act?

The OMA defines a “public body” to include “all legislative, executive, administrative or advisory bodies of the State, counties, townships, cities, villages, incorporated towns, school districts and all other municipal corporations, boards, bureaus, committees or commissions of this State, and any subsidiary bodies of any of the foregoing including but not limited to committees and subcommittees which are supported in whole or in part by tax revenue or which expend tax revenue, except the General Assembly and committees or commissions thereof…” 5 ILCS 120/1.02. Zoning boards, commissions, committees and subcommittees are subject to all requirements of the OMA, including, but not limited to, the requirements for providing public notice of meetings, conducting open meetings, preparing agendas, and keeping meeting minutes.

What constitutes proper notice under the Illinois Open Meetings Act?

In addition to preparing an annual schedule of regular meetings, a public body must prepare an agenda for each regular meeting which is then to be posted at the principal office of the public body and at the location where the meeting is to be held at least 48 hours in advance of the holding of the meeting. A public body that has a website that the full-time staff of the public body maintains must also post on its website the agenda of any regular meetings. Any agenda posted on the website must remain posted until the regular meeting is concluded. 5 ILCS 120/2.01(a). The agenda preparation requirement does not preclude the consideration of items not specifically set forth in the agenda, but a public entity may not vote on a matter that is not on the agenda. 5 ILCS 120/2.01(a).

How are public meetings required to be held?

All meetings required to be public must be held at specified times and places that are convenient and open to the public. No meeting required to be public may be held on a legal holiday unless the regular meeting falls on the holiday. 5 ILCS 120/2.01. For example, holding a meeting more than 20 miles from the public body’s regular meeting location is not appropriate. Ill. Att’y Gen. Pub. Acc. Op. No. 13-014 (Sept. 5, 2013).

Also, except as otherwise provided in the OMA, a quorum of members of the public body must be physically present at the location of the meeting. 5 ILCS 120/2.01. At such meetings, public bodies must keep written minutes of all of their open and closed meetings and must also keep a verbatim record of all closed meetings in either audio or video format. Minutes must include the date, time and place of the meeting, the members of the public body that were present or absent, and whether the members were physically present or present by means of video or audio conference. The minutes must also include a summary of discussion on all matters proposed, deliberated, or decided, and a record of the votes taken. 5 ILCS 120/2.06(a).

Why is it important to understand the Illinois Open Meetings Act for the purposes of zoning meetings and hearings?

Public meetings conducted by the Zoning Board of Appeals, Plan Commission, City Council or any other public body, committee or subcommittee, are subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act. In order to effectively advocate at a zoning hearing before a public body, it’s crucial to understand all of the legal requirements that the public body must follow to comply with the law. For example, if the public body votes favorably for your project but it did not have quorum, the public body voted in violation of the OMA, and its decision is not a valid decision. Your reliance on an invalid decision may cause you to lose time, money, and opportunities.

On the other hand, if that same public body issued an unfavorable decision, it may provide you with an opportunity to challenge the validity of that decision. Therefore, understanding the Open Meetings Act is crucial to properly advocating before a public body on a zoning-related matter.

For further information on the Illinois Open Meetings Act, click here.

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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only. It is not considered legal advice on any subject matter. The information provided here does not create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You should not act upon this information without seeking advice from an attorney licensed in your own state or country.