Column: Even student organizations must obey the law

If information is power then public bodies wield a lot of it. It is a journalist’s job to pass that information on to the public, including anything that might have slipped through the bureaucratic cracks.

From the water we drink, to the money we pay for services to the university and city and all the way up the line, public bodies have a heavy hand in every day life.

With all of these functions being managed by an outside party, it is imperative that citizens and organizations have access to information both vital and mundane.

Along with the Freedom of Information Act, one of the ways that the state of Illinois attempts to ensure transparency and an open government is with the Open Meetings Act, which was first enacted in 1957. Many groups at Eastern, including the Apportionment Board, are considered public bodies and must function under the Open Meetings Act.

Last week, the AB scheduled an impromptu meeting Thursday after the women’s basketball team won their game Wednesday night.

The AB distributes funds from student fees to the Student Recreation Center, the University Board, the AB and the Student Government.

At this meeting, the AB approved student money for bus to bring fans to Nashville, Tenn., to support the women’s basketball team during the OVC tournament this week.

And while I’m sure most students would not oppose this use of their money, the AB did not really give them the chance to decide either way.

The first paragraphs of the Open Meetings Act outline the importance of government transparency, saying “(it) is designed to prohibit secret deliberations and action on matters which, due to their potential impact on the public, properly should be discussed in a public forum.”

Under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, all public body meetings take place openly, with 24 defined exceptions where written meeting minutes must be kept.

Public notice for all meeting must be posted prior to the meeting and include the time and location of the meeting.

AB Chairwoman Ashley Hoogstraten said to Daily Eastern News reporters that the tentative agenda was available after the meeting was scheduled, but DEN editors were not made aware of the change so we were unable to preview the meeting or cover it. Student funds of $2,000 were approved at this meeting that very few people knew about.

It is easy to say “so what?” when money is approved for something as innocent as a bus to support athletics, but that line of thought is a slippery slope. Next time “so what?” may not be so simple.

Emily Steele is a senior journalism major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction Feb. 22, 2011: In Emily Steele’s column in Tuesday’s edition of The Daily Eastern News titled “Even student organizations must obey the law,” the date of the women’s basketball game was incorrect. The last women’s basketball game was Thursday.

The DEN regrets the error.