Lake Zurich mayor alleges trustees broke open meetings law

Lake Zurich Mayor Suzanne Branding this week accused four trustees of breaking state law by privately discussing village business via e-mail.

Branding said she has filed a complaint with the Lake County state’s attorney’s office about the trustees’ electronic communications, which reportedly occurred after five meetings between December 2010 and this month.

She claimed the discussions violate the state Open Meetings Act, which ensures government business is handled publicly.

Branding made her allegations public Monday night during the board’s semimonthly meeting. She elaborated on her complaint in an interview with the Daily Herald.

Branding claimed trustees Tom Poynton, Richard Sustich, Jonathan Sprawka and Jeffrey Halen discussed issues that came up at board meetings and then sent memos to her, the other trustees and staffers about those items.

Branding said she’s spoken with the village attorney about her concerns, and the attorney, Ruth Schlossberg, has cautioned trustees about the Open Meetings Act.

None of the four trustees Branding targeted could be reached for comment.

State law requires nearly all gatherings of elected boards be advertised and open to the public. Some exceptions exist, such as discussions about land purchases or lawsuits.

The law applies to e-mail and other forms of electronic conversation.

If the majority of a quorum of a board — in Lake Zurich’s case, three or more of its six board members — deliberate official business in private, the conversation could break the law.

The Open Meetings Act does not apply to purely social gatherings, as long as no government business is discussed.

Violations are misdemeanors punishable by fines of up to $1,500 and up to 30 days in jail, but criminal prosecutions in Illinois are rare. Civil actions, such as lawsuits to invalidate decisions made during breaches of the law, are more common.