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Allen v. Clark County Park District Board of Commissioners

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

November 16, 2016

KIRK ALLEN and JOHN KRAFT, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
THE CLARK COUNTY PARK DISTRICT BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from Circuit Court of Clark County No. 15MR4 Honorable Millard Scott Everhart, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Harris and Appleton concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          STEIGMANN, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 In February 2015, defendant, the Clark County Park District Board of Commissioners (Board), conducted a regularly scheduled meeting, during which it took action on two items listed on its agenda: "X. Board Approval of Lease Rates" and "XI. Board Approval of Revised Covenants." The Board voted to approve both items.

         ¶ 2 The next day, plaintiffs, Kirk Allen and John Kraft, filed a complaint alleging that the Board failed to comply with the Open Meetings Act (Act) (5 ILCS 120/1 to 7.5 (West 2014)) because, among other things, the Board provided an insufficient explanation-referred to as a "public recital" in the Act-of items X and XI before voting to approve them. The trial court granted the Board's motion to dismiss the complaint. Plaintiffs appeal. We reverse.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 On the evening of February 17, 2015, the Board conducted a regularly scheduled meeting. Prior to that meeting, the Board posted a meeting agenda both at its principal office and on its website. The agenda included two items relevant to this appeal: "X. Board Approval of Lease Rates" and "XI. Board Approval of Revised Covenants." The agenda included no further explanation of those two items.

         ¶ 5 At the meeting, the following discussion occurred concerning items X and XI, according to the facts alleged in plaintiffs' second amended complaint. Board Vice President Ron Stone said, "[A]pproval of *** of the lease rates *** entertain a motion." (Omissions in original.) Board Commissioner Larry Yargus then moved for the Board to approve the "rates that came from appraisal." The Board voted to approve the rates. Stone then said, "[O]k, uh board approval for the revised covenants." Yargus moved for the Board to "accept the revised covenants." The Board voted to accept the covenants.

         ¶ 6 After the votes, Stone said, "[O]ne comment, folks, as soon as this gets recorded at the courthouse, then these'll be viewing [sic] for public record, now that they have been approved. Hopefully get recorded tomorrow." A member of the public then asked the Board to describe what it had just voted on. Stone responded, "They gotta [sic] get recorded at the courthouse first. I'm sorry." Yargus said, "[I]t's just a formality."

         ¶ 7 The following day, plaintiffs pro se filed a complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief against the Board, claiming that the Board violated the Act. Plaintiffs alleged that the posted agenda insufficiently set forth the subject matter of items X and XI and that the Board failed to explain the nature of items X and XI before voting on them.

         ¶ 8 In March 2015, the Board filed a motion to dismiss under section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2014)), along with a motion seeking sanctions under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 137 (eff. July 1, 2013). The Board claimed that plaintiffs were members of a group called Edgar County Watchdogs and operated a website called Illinois Leaks. The Board further claimed that plaintiffs were frequent litigants against public bodies and that their suit in this case was frivolous and intended to harass the Board because plaintiffs disagreed with the Board's plan to develop a subdivision in Mill Creek Park.

         ¶ 9 In July 2015, an attorney entered an appearance to represent plaintiffs. Later that month, plaintiffs filed a four-count second amended complaint, which is the subject of this appeal. The complaint alleged that the Board violated (1) section 2.02(c) of the Act (5 ILCS 120/2.02(c) (West 2014)) because the agenda failed to sufficiently notify the public about the subject matter of items X and XI (count I); (2) section 2(c) of the Act (5 ILCS 120/2(c) (West 2014)) by discussing items X and XI during a closed executive session meeting (count II); (3) section 2(e) of the Act (5 ILCS 120/2(e) (West 2014)) by failing to give a sufficient public recital of items X and XI before taking action on those items (count III); and (4) the Board's own written policy by discussing items X and XI during a closed executive session meeting (count IV).

         ¶ 10 Count III of the second amended complaint requested the following relief: (1) an injunction prohibiting the Board from committing future violations of section 2(e) of the Act; (2) an order declaring as void the final actions taken by the Board at the February 2015 meeting; and (3) an order awarding plaintiffs costs and attorney fees.

         ¶ 11 In August 2015, the Board filed a section 2-615 motion to dismiss plaintiffs' second amended complaint along with another motion for Rule 137 sanctions. After hearings in September and November 2015, the trial court granted the Board's motion to dismiss ...


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