Attorney General investigates possible Open Meetings Act violations by county
In April 2012, Winnebago County began a process for reviewing the expansion of the garbage landfill at Baxter Road. During this process, citizens were informed that they were not allowed to address this issue at Winnebago County Board meetings, or with their own county board representatives individually. These restrictions raised concerns of possible violations of both First Amendment free speech rights, and possible violations of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
Michael Castronovo, a Rockford resident and former candidate for Winnebago County Board chairman, alleged that after applying in the proper manner, he personally was not allowed to speak at a Winnebago County Board meeting in April 2012, and he was denied access to speak at the second public hearing held at the BMO Harris Bank Center.
Because of these events and concerns, Castronovo wrote a letter to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office in Springfield in May 2012. As a result of this letter, the Attorney General’s Office has recently sent a communication to Winnebago County that states “…further inquiry is warranted in order to ensure that the Winnebago County Board complied with the requirements of the OMA at its April 2012 board meetings.”
This letter was addressed to Deputy State’s Attorney David Kurlinkus with a request that the county, or an appropriate representative of the county board, reply within seven days. Follow-up reply letters have been sent by both Attorney Kurlinkus and Castronovo.
No final determination has been made as to the depth of this current investigation or any conclusions or charges to be brought.
Letter from Office of the Attorney General
RE: Open Meetings Act Request for Review — 2012 PAC 19627
We have received a Request for Review from Mr. Michael Castronovo under section 3.5 of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) (5 ILCS 120/3.5 (West 2010) and have concluded that further inquiry is warranted in order to ensure that the Winnebago County Board (County) complied with the requirements of the OMA at its April 2012 board meetings. 5 ILCS 120/1 et seq. (West 2010). Mr. Castronovo’s Request for Review is enclosed for your reference.
To continue our review of those issues, we ask that the County, or appropriate representative of the County Board, provide a response to the allegations made in Mr. Castronovo’s Request for Review, with regard to its April 2012 meetings. See 5 ILCS 120/2.02 (West 2010). Mr. Castronovo alleges that he and other members of the public were refused the right to speak at these meetings. Please respond to these allegations in your response.
As required by the OMA, this information must be provided to our office within 7 working days after receipt of this letter. 5 ILCS 120/3.5(b) (West 2010). As we conduct our review of this matter, we will notify you if we require additional records or information. If the Village believes that other documents or information would be helpful to us as we review the issues, it may submit additional records or affidavits. Please provide the requested materials, any response and all additional information within 7 working days of receipt of this letter.
Please note that under the OMA, we are required to forward a copy of any answer from a public body to the requester and provide the requester an opportunity to reply. 5 ILCS 120/3.5(c) (West 2010). The OMA also provides, however, that “[r]ecords that are obtained by the Public Access Counselor from a public body for purposes of addressing a request for review under this Section 3.5 may not be disclosed to the public, including the requester, by the Public Access Counselor. Those records, while in the possession of the Public Access Counselor, shall be exempt from disclosure by the Public Access Counselor under the Freedom of Information Act.”
If you have any questions, please contact me at (217) 785-7438.
Very truly yours,
MATTHEW C. ROGINA
Assistant Attorney General
Public Access Bureau
From the March 13-19, 2013, issue
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