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Galesburg legal counsel responds to alleged Open Meeting Act violations by city council

Galesburg City Hall.jpg
Jane Carlson
Tri States Public Radio

In response to alleged violations of the Illinois Open Meetings Act, Galesburg’s legal counsel told the Illinois Attorney General’s Office the closed session meetings of the city council were authorized, in part because a federal discrimination complaint against the city was being discussed.

Ward One Council Member Bradley Hix and Ward Seven Council Member Larry Cox filed the complaints on Jan. 11 and Jan. 13, saying the alleged violations involved discussing the creation of a new city position and salary increases in closed session.

Both council members were in those closed session meetings on Dec. 5 and Dec. 19.

Their complaints were filed specifically against Mayor Peter Schwartzman and City Manager Gerald Smith, but the city council is being investigated as a whole.

Here’s what the complaints allege, and how the city responded.

Dec. 5 Closed Session

The Dec. 5 closed session of the city council was called for the purpose of discussing the appointment, employment, compensation, and performance of specific employees.

A portion of that meeting was inadvertently broadcast to the public and later published online by a local media outlet.

During the meeting, Smith announced and then discussed the impending retirement of Public Works Director Wayne Carl, the idea of creating a new assistant manager/public works director position, and wanting to hire a qualified minority candidate for that role.

Smith also referenced an active Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discrimination complaint against the city.

On Jan. 11, Hix emailed the Public Access Bureau of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to file a complaint about the Dec. 5 meeting.

Hix said the council went into closed session to discuss the creation of an assistant city manager position, but that discussion should have taken place in the open session of the meeting, because it’s a public policy issue.

“I was unaware at the time the meeting was a violation but discovered this allegation a few weeks afterward,” Hix said in the email.

City attorney Paul Mangieri filed the city’s official response to the complaints in a Jan. 30 letter to the Public Access Bureau obtained by TSPR.

Mangieri said the closed session on Dec. 5 was authorized.

“A review of the minutes of that session would establish that the reason for the closed session was to address potential response to an active EEOC complaint against the city,” Mangieri said in the letter. “Some of the allegations of the EEOC complaint include allegations of racial and sexual discrimination and an overall hostile work environment.”

Mangieri states Smith asked for the closed session meeting under the backdrop of potential remedies for the city should the EEOC find evidence of discrimination in its investigation.

One remedy would be recruitment and hiring of qualified minority applicants for supervisory positions, Mangieri said.

Dec. 19 Closed Session

The Dec. 19 closed session of the city council was called for the purpose of discussing the appointment, employment, compensation, and performance of specific employees.

On Jan. 13, Cox emailed the Public Access Bureau to file a complaint, and followed up on Jan. 16 and Jan. 17 with more information.

Cox said in the email that Smith violated the Open Meetings Act by calling for a closed session to discuss topics such as hiring a consultant to do a salary study and increasing salaries for several positions.

“Three of the positions were in the city manager’s area and the increases were being justified because these workers were taking on more duties,” Cox said. “The public should have a right to know this information.”

Cox also said in his complaint that he attended the closed session meeting, but did not call for it.

Hix also filed a complaint about the Dec. 19 meeting on Jan. 13.

In the city’s response, Mangieri said the closed session was authorized. He said it was called because Cox had expressed concern to Smith about salary increases for some members of the city’s administration.

Specifically, that was about salary increases for employees taking on additional responsibilities following the departure of the former city attorney, according to the city’s response.

Mangieri also said the salary study and compensation levels for employees not covered by collective bargaining were discussed, but no final action was taken by the council at either the Dec. 5 or Dec. 19 closed session meetings.

The city’s response included agendas, minutes, and verbatim recordings of both closed session meetings in question.

What’s next

Drew Hill, deputy press secretary for the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, said there is no average time for resolving Open Meeting Act complaints.

Timing instead depends on legal complexity and the volume of materials to review.

Now the city’s response will be sent to Hix and Cox, who will have the opportunity to respond.

Then the Public Access Bureau will review all the materials.

“While we work to resolve matters as efficiently as possible, we prioritize evaluating matters as thoroughly as possible,” Hill said.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson is TSPR's regional reporter.