No sports secrets at Illinois State; Athletic Council subject to law

ILLINOIS — The Appellate Court of Illinois has ruled that the Athletic Council of Illinois State University, an advisory body to the president and athletic director on athletic issues, is responsible for adhering to the state open meetings and open records acts. In a case that was decided in November, the court ruled that the council, which reports to the student affairs committee as an external standing committee of the academic senate, is a public body subject to the provisions of the freedom of information acts.The controversy surrounds closed session meetings of the council on March 22 and April 26, 1995. These meetings were held to discuss the elimination of the men’s wrestling and soccer programs at the university. Before the meeting started, several members of the public, including members of the men1s soccer and wrestling teams, coaches and media, were denied entrance.According to James Johnson, chair of the council at the time of the closed meetings, the council did not vote to eliminate the men’s sports, but rather to approve the president1s recommendation to eliminate those programs.”We simply didn’t have enough room,” said Johnson. “We were scheduled for a conference room. At the time, we didn’t know we were subject to the Open Meetings Act, so we asked the athletes [in attendance] to leave.”After the meetings, Charles G. Reynard, McLean County State’s Attorney, threatened to bring criminal prosecution against the board of regents for violating the Open Meetings Act. During an investigation, the Board turned over the minutes and a transcript of the March 22 meeting to Reynard. When the Peoria Journal Star requested copies of the documents from Reynard under the state open records law, the board filed a motion to prohibit Reynard from releasing them. Reynard filed a countercomplaint, alleging that the council improperly went into closed session. He also asked that matters discussed during the closed session and voted on in the open portion of the meetings be declared null and void.The court decided that because the athletic council is a public body, it failed to follow the proper procedures to hold a closed meeting. However, the court declined Reynard’s request to declare the votes null and void, as “the decision for elimination of the men’s sport programs would have been made…in any event.”This decision did not follow the court’s earlier decision in Pope v. Parkinson, 48 Ill. App. 3d 797, 363 N.E.2d 438 (1977), because of the difference in the way the members of the bodies in question were chosen. The faculty and student members of the Athletic Council, who could not be members of the academic senate, were voted on by senate members, and board members of the alumni association voted for the alumni representatives. The members cannot be removed except for unexcused absences.However, in Pope, members of the University of Illinois assembly hall advisory committee were appointed by the university chancellor, and could be dismissed at any time. In Pope, the court found the committee was not subject to the open meetings law. “I think [the new ruling] will solve problems presented by Pope v. Parkinson,” said Illinois media attorney Don Craven.An injunction was filed to prevent future violations of the law by the council. In addition, the court concluded that the academic senate, the primary body for determining educational policy at the university, is also a public body, meaning it too is subject to the open meetings and open records laws.The parties involved will not appeal.