1/2/2004 4:50:00 PM Meeting law forces accountability
After a year in which public access to information continued to take a post-9/11 beating, Illinois public officials will be more accountable to those of us who pay their salaries.
Public Act 93-0523 — the “Verbatim Record” law — took effect Thursday. It strengthens the Illinois Open Meetings Act by requiring all public bodies to keep an audio or videotape record of executive sessions closed to the public.
If there’s a civil or criminal claim that the Open Meetings Act has been violated, a judge can review the tape. A judge who decides the act has been violated can order the public body to release the information in question or release the taped part of the meeting as discovery for parties in a civil or criminal lawsuit.
What does this mean for you? It means that with a tape rolling, members of local boards will likely be more careful about what they talk about behind closed doors — and that means your interests as a taxpayer and citizen are being better protected.
While there are legitimate reasons for secret discussions, many public bodies have knowingly or unknowingly crossed the line and broken the law by conducting public business in private. Before Jan. 1, it was difficult to determine when or if this had happened; violations often came to light through disgruntled board members who often had their own axes to grind.
But now, there will be a reliable source that a judge can return to and determine in no uncertain terms whether the law has been broken.
This, of course, depends on public bodies — ALL public bodies — complying with the law. As 2004 begins, the Daily News will be checking with Crawford County’s public bodies to find out how they will be complying — and putting them on notice if they’re not familiar with the new law.