New law requires meeting agendas to spell out what’s on the table
By Susan Frick Carlman firstname.lastname@example.org July 19, 2012 4:50PM
Gov. Quinn was in DuPage County Thursday to sign a new law that backers say will strengthen the Open Meetings Act. | Susan Carlman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 21, 2012 6:19AM
No more hidden agendas. No more cryptic ones, either.
A new state law signed by Gov. Pat Quinn Thursday in Wheaton requires government bodies to give citizens more details about their pending business, and to make that information more readily available.
An amendment to the Open Meetings Act, the measure stipulates that mandatory published agendas must include enough descriptive wording to enable people to understand what will take place at a public meeting. It also requires boards and commissions to make sure agendas are fully accessible to the public for at least 48 hours, generally through websites, before the meeting begins.
“It’s important to create transparency and sunshine on agendas,” said. State Rep. Sandy Pihos, R-Glen Ellyn, who introduced the bill in Springfield Feb. 2.
In the past, guidelines weren’t sufficiently clear and meeting plans often turned up with scant detail, Pihos said.
“What happened was we began to create shell agendas,” she said, the vague meeting itineraries that have characterized what some taxing bodies’ released.
“I would get phone calls and (constituents) would say, ‘I’m looking at this Park District agenda. What do you think this means?’” Pihos said. “I don’t want to be the go-between.
“If we’re going to encourage people to get involved in local government, we need to give them the means to do that.”
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin hailed the measure, which dovetails with a recent evaluation of two dozen county-appointed bodies that found several of them showed room for improvement in areas such as ethics and purchasing practices.
Cronin is not sorry to see the end of organizations holding back on the public’s business, as many did in days past.
“Very few maintained a public website, and detailed agendas weren’t being made available,” he said in remarks before a group of local mayors, County Board members and state legislators.
For Quinn, the signing was a crucial step toward the “electronic democracy” that is the rule now. It parallels steps his administration has taken at the state level, he said, to post data such as appointed groups’ activities, spending and salaries on the Internet.
“What we want to do is put every ounce of information that we can online,” Quinn said.
State Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Westmont, the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, commended the bipartisan initiative.
“I think that Gov. Quinn is known for his commitment to transparency,” Dillard said, noting that the bill drew consensus from Democrats aligned with the governor as well as Republicans. “For those of you who watch state government, it’s not always as contentious as you might think it is.”
Pihos said Thursday’s enactment culminated two years of effort. Legislators had trouble in previous attempts, she said, coming up with a version that did not dilute the spirit of the bill.
She emphasized that the new law is about encouraging and empowering civic engagement, and that its time has come.
“Transparency is a public demand now,” she said. “We’re not trying to play ‘gotcha’ with anyone.”