Illinois has had an open meetings law for decades, but the concept still eludes some public officials. After all these years, you have to think that the failure to abide by it is deliberate.
A recent example involves St. Clair Township, but similar things happen involving any number of local governments in the metro-east.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office was flooded with complaints after St. Clair Township locked its doors prior to its February meeting when the meeting room reached its capacity of 76. The meeting was about a controversial sewer rate increase, and township officials knew there would be an overflow crowd. They had the sign-in sheet numbered so they would know when they reached capacity.
The simple solution would have been to hold the meeting in a larger area nearby so everyone could have attended. Instead, many township residents who wanted to have a say about sewer rates, or just wanted to hear some answers, were literally locked out.
Now that the attorney general’s office is investigating, the township said it is cooperating. That’s cold comfort to residents who were shut out.
The cooperation needs to happen in advance of a meeting; it shouldn’t take complaints to get elected leaders to ensure public participation. This is not just a matter of following state law; it’s about doing the right thing and accommodating the needs of the people they were elected to serve.