PAC Reiterates That Public Bodies May Only Discuss Specific Employees, Not a Class of Employees, in Closed SessionsAuthor: Ruth Alderman Schlossberg
October 30, 2018
In October, the Office of the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor (PAC) published Public Access Opinion 18-012 in which it repeated its position that the 2(c)(1) exception of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA) authorizing closed session to discuss “[t]he appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees of the public body” applies only to discussions of specific employees. It does not authorize closed session to discuss matters concerning whole classes of employees or budgetary considerations.
The PAC opinion arose from a request for review from the President of Western Illinois University’s Chapter of the University Professionals complaining that the University’s Board of Trustees used a closed session to discuss layoffs generally and whole classes of employees rather than discussing a specific, individual employee as the Board had asserted. After review, the PAC found that although the Board discussed one individual employee’s contract during the closed session, most of the closed session discussion concerned budgetary matters and considerations applicable to whole categories of employees and not just this individual’s performance.
The PAC emphasized that discussions concerning categories of employees or budgetary discussions that do not center on the merits or conduct of specific employees or prospective employees are not authorized by the 2(c)(1) exemption. According to the PAC, the elimination of a job or position for non-performance reasons, even one held by only a single employee, would not fall within the scope of the 2(c)(1) exception.
Accordingly, the PAC ordered the release of that part of the closed session minutes and verbatim recording that related to budgetary matters and categories of employees, although it did not order the release of the portions concerning the specific employee’s contract.
This opinion serves as a reminder that during closed sessions to discuss a specific employee, it is important to resist the natural tendency to allow discussions of individual employees to slip into larger discussions of budgetary and staffing considerations. These larger issues are the sort that are expected to be conducted and discussed in open session without the protections provided by closed session for the discussion of individual employees.