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DeKALB – The attorney for the DeKalb Public Library said Friday he now believes the library board did not commit an Open Meetings Act violation when it voted in closed session to enter into a purchase agreement to buy the old DeKalb Clinic property.
Although the Illinois Open Meetings Act states that no final action can be taken at a closed meeting, library attorney Gary Cordes cited provisions of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act to claim no Open Meetings Act violation occurred.
“Upon further review, I believe there was no violation to agreeing to sign a contract,” Cordes said late Friday afternoon in a phone interview with the Daily Chronicle.
Cordes cited 5 ILCS 140/7(l) and 5 ILCS 140/7(r) – exemptions listed in the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which pertains to the release of documents and information to the public, but not lawful conduct of public meetings.
The first FOIA provision Cordes cited states as an exemption: “Minutes of meetings of public bodies closed to the public as provided in the Open Meetings Act until the public body makes the minutes available to the public under Section 2.06. of the Open Meetings Act.”
The second FOIA provision Cordes cited states as an exemption: “The records, documents and information relating to real estate purchase negotiations until those negotiations have been completed or otherwise terminated. With regard to a parcel involved in a pending or actually and reasonably contemplated eminent domain proceeding under the Eminent Domain Act, records, documents and information relating to that parcel shall be exempt except as may be allowed under discovery rules adopted by the Illinois Supreme Court. The records, documents and information relating to a real estate sale shall be exempt until a sale is consummated.”
Don Craven, the attorney for the Illinois Press Association, disagreed with Cordes’ opinion that there has been no violation of the Open Meetings Act because the law specifically says no final action may be taken in closed session. The Daily Chronicle is a member of the IPA.
The provision Craven referred to is 5 ILCS 120/2(e), which is part of the Open Meetings Act, and states: “No final action may be taken at a closed meeting. Final action shall be preceded by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and other information that will inform the public of the business being conducted.”
Earlier in the day, Cordes met with DeKalb County State’s Attorney John Farrell regarding the purchase contract. Farrell said that the FOIA exemptions cited by Cordes did not come up.
That meeting was the result of an inquiry Farrell sent the library board to gather information about action taken by the library board during a closed meeting May 12. During that meeting, the board voted to approve a contract to buy the former DeKalb Clinic property to build a new library on, violating the Open Meetings Act.
“The thing I’m giving him is circumstances surrounding the approval of a contract to purchase property and the circumstances surrounding the meetings that occurred,” Cordes said earlier Friday afternoon.
Farrell said Thursday the purpose of his letter was to inquire about what happened, why the violation occurred and how the board intends to remedy the situation. He said Cordes will satisfy his request.
“He came right forward and laid it all out for me. It was a very fruitful meeting,” Farrell said.
Cordes has said that at its next meeting in August, the library board plans to vacate the motion approved in May in closed session, then turn around and make a new motion to authorize the agreement.
Cordes, who was not at the May 12 meeting, said earlier this week that the violation was unintentional. Messages left Thursday and Friday with the board of trustees and with library director Dee Coover were not returned.
“They’ll be on their toes probably more in the future, and that’s what they intend to do,” Cordes said about preventing future slip-ups. “They’re just trying to do their job.”
The property owned by the clinic was sold for $1.8 million so that the library can move forward with constructing a new 89,000-square-foot facility. Library officials have said the current building in the 300 block of Oak Steet, nearly 80 years old, is too small for the library’s holdings and programming needs.