by Anna Yackle, IHLS Membership Coordinator
posted 4/6/20 4:21 PM CT, updated 5/7/20 1:48 PM CT
During these times of uncertainty and social distancing, certain library business must still be conducted. Board meetings are often a necessary part of advancing the library’s business but holding a public meeting while everyone must remain six feet apart and wear face coverings may seem like a daunting task. Are there other options? Libraries are fortunate to have an abundance of guidance regarding conducting board meetings.
Open Meetings Act
In normal times, the standards that help guide libraries are each library’s board bylaws,
the Secretary of State’s Illinois Public Libraries Trustee Manual, Illinois Library Law, and the Open Meetings Act. But we are now operating in extraordinary times due to the outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus 19 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Therefore, Governor J.B. Pritzker decided to make temporary changes to how public meetings are conducted. Citing a concern for public health and a desire to curb the spread of the pandemic, on March 16, 2020, Governor Pritzker issued Executive Order 2020 – 07. This order suspends the provisions of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA) relating to in-person attendance by trustees and members of the public at board meetings and allows remote (audio or video) meetings to be streamed to the public.
Section 6. During the duration of the Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamation, the provisions of the Open Meetings Act, 5 ILCS 120, requiring or relating to in-person attendance by members of a public body are suspended. Specifically, (1) the requirement in 5 ILCS 120/2.01 that “members of a public body must be physically present” is suspended; and (2) the conditions in 5 ILCS 120/7 limiting when remote participation is permitted are suspended. Public bodies are encouraged to postpone consideration of public business where possible. When a meeting is necessary, public bodies are encouraged to provide video, audio, and/or telephonic access to meetings to ensure members of the public may monitor the meeting, and to update their websites and social media feeds to keep the public fully apprised of any modifications to their meeting schedules or the format of their meetings due to COVID-19, as well their activities relating to COVID-19. (Executive Order 2020 – 7)
The Executive Order is interpreted by the Illinois State Attorney in Guidance to Public Bodies on the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Some highlights:
- “Public bodies may choose to postpone or cancel public meetings.”
- “Requirement for a Physical Presence Quorum for Members of a Public Body . . . Executive Order 2020-07 suspends the in-person presence requirements and eliminates the limitation on remote access. If a meeting is necessary, public bodies are encouraged to utilize remote access as allowed by the Executive Order.”
- “Executive Order 2020-07 prohibits all public and private gatherings of 50 or more people. . . . [P]ublic bodies are encouraged to cancel any public meetings in which they expect more than 50 people to attend. For a public body that determines it must hold a meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Executive Order 2020-07 suspends the in-person attendance requirement for members of the public body and allows for remote participation. If a meeting is necessary, public bodies are encouraged to provide video, audio, and/or telephonic access to maintain openness and transparency to members of the public.” (Guidance to Public Bodies)
Reviewing these resources may leave you with lingering questions that are best addressed by your library’s attorney. Open Meetings Act compliance questions may be answered by the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor (PAC) by contacting PublicAccess@atg.state.il.us or 877-299-3642.
Deciding How to Hold Public Meetings
Given this information, the library board’s key decision will be where and how to conduct meetings. There are three basic options: in person, online, or conference call.
An in-person meeting must provide enough space for both the board and the public to maintain safe social distancing of at least six feet between participants. One variation is to have the board maintain distancing in one room and provide video access in another room or from remote locations. Another option is to have a quorum maintain social distancing as they meet in person while the rest of the board and the public attend online or by phone.
Virtual Meetings (Online and Telephone)
Several options for free online and telephone conferencing are available, or at low cost, including Zoom, Google Hangouts, and GoToMeeting. When choosing a service, boards will need to consider ease of use, number of participants allowed, time limits, technical support, availability of broadband Internet, and restrictions. Below are some resources to help you compare the available services.
Online Conferencing Options
Telephone Conferencing Options
Whether the board meeting is conducted in person or via video or phone conferencing, the behavior, content, and rules used during a regular meeting remain the same. Keep the meeting simple and short, remember to take minutes, and enjoy the company of board members and your public.
Have questions about meeting the requirements of the Open Meetings Act? Contact Sarah Pratt, Public Access Counselor, Illinois State Attorney General's Office, at 1-877-299-FOIA (1-877-299-3642) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
PANDEMIC BLOG POST DISCLAIMER: Illinois Heartland Library System does not offer medical or legal advice. Please check with your medical or legal professional before making any health or law-related decisions.