University advisory council subject to meetings law
ILLINOIS–The Athletic Council of Illinois State University, an advisory body that provides feedback to the university athletic director and president on athletic issues, violated the state Open Meetings Act when it held a closed session to discuss the abolition of the men’s soccer and wrestling programs, a state appellate court in Springfield unanimously held in early November.
The court found that the council is a public body subject to the Open Meetings Act and ordered that the council be enjoined from closing future sessions. However, because the soccer and wrestling programs had already been eliminated by the president, the court refused to void the council’s recommendation, citing the fact that such a decision, two years after the coaches and athletes are gone, would have no practical effect.
In March 1995, the council held a meeting at which it voted to recommend the elimination of the university’s soccer and wrestling teams. Although there had been talk about a lawsuit against the university if it dropped the men’s sports programs, there was no discussion of litigation strategy or settlement at the meeting.
In August 1995, the Peoria Journal Star and Twin-Cities Broadcasting Corporation filed requests for the minutes and a transcript of the council’s meeting which were in the possession of the McLean County State’s Attorney. The university filed a request for a preliminary injunction to prohibit the state’s attorney from releasing the documents. The injunction was granted by the trial court and upheld by an appellate court in Springfield.
The university then filed an amended complaint asking for a declaratory judgment that the council is not subject to the Open Meetings Act or the Freedom of Information Act. The State’s Attorney argued that public access to the council’s meetings and records should be allowed.
The trial court in Bloomington held that the council is a public body. However, the court found that the litigation exemption permitted the council to close sessions, even when no lawsuit had been filed. The university appealed and the state’s attorney filed a cross-appeal.
The appellate court agreed that the council is a public body because it is part of the formal organizational structure of the university. The council improperly invoked the litigation exemption by failing to record and enter the basis for finding that litigation is probable or imminent, the court held. (Board of Regents v. Reynard; State’s Attorney: R. Brian Hug, Bloomington)