University settles open-meetings lawsuit

ILLINOIS — A lawsuit brought by two former student newspaper editors was settled in April when the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees agreed to abide by state open-meetings regulations.

Joe Biesk, former editor of the Northern Star, the NIU student-run newspaper, and Kevin Wendt, former managing editor, sued the board of trustees for holding a February 2000 emergency meeting without the 48-hour notice required by the state-open meetings act. According to the complaint, the board deemed the meeting an ’emergency’ only after being questioned about not providing proper notice as required by state law.

The lawsuit also alleged that the board of trustees violated the open-meetings act in all meetings held by the presidential search committee because proper notice and agendas were not provided at least 48 hours prior to the meetings. The committee was put together to select a new university president after John LaTourette, the former president, announced his intention to retire in 2000.

Another former Northern Star editor, Jerry Huston, who is now an attorney with Lord, Bissell & Brook, a large Chicago law firm, represented Biesk and Wendt.

Huston said the settlement agreement prohibits him from discussing the specifics of the case, but he confirmed that an agreement has been reached on future presidential searches and board of trustees meetings.

‘Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the board of trustees has conceded that future presidential search committees at Northern Illinois University will be subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act and all of its provisions, including requirements that meetings be open to the public, that all final votes be taken in open session, that prior notice of meetings be given to the public and the news media, etc.,’ Huston said.