Legislature Mandates Mechanism for Two-Way Communication Between the Public and Elected Officials

Sep 15, 2014

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Beginning January 1, 2015, units of local government and school districts are required to “post a mechanism, such as a uniform single email address, on its Internet website for members of the public to electronically communicate with elected officials.”  Public Act 098-0930, which amends the Local Records Act (50 ILCS 205/20).  According to the legislative history, the spirit of the law is intended to eliminate the existing one-way communication system (i.e., information a unit of local government or school district disseminates to the public on its website), and establish two-way communication between the public and elected officials. In doing so, the public is able to easily communicate questions, complaints, and compliments to elected officials.

Compliance Obligations

Units of local government and school districts have 90 days after January 1, 2015 to comply with the law.  We believe that community colleges fall within the reference to “units of local government” and are subject to the new law.  While community colleges are not specifically identified and the phrase “units of local government” is not defined, we believe community colleges are included based on previous ICCB statements when the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act was passed, and because community colleges are subject to the Local Records Act.   If the unit of local government or school district does not have an Internet website, there is no obligation to create a website in order to comply with the law.  Notably, a social media website, social networking website, or any other social media presence does not trigger compliance with the law.  If a unit of local government’s or school district’s elected officials (or at least one elected official) already have an existing individual email address which is publicly available via its Internet website, no further action is required by this law. 

At present, there is no requirement that an elected official formally respond to emails it receives from the public via the established email address.  However, the unit of local government or school district may want to consider developing a uniform response and/or a system for review and handling of comments/complaints, etc. made by members of the public via the established email address.  Please keep in mind that received emails and responses would generally be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Additionally, at present, there is no penalty for non-compliance with this law.

Karla J. Baumer and Catherine R. Locallo of the firm’s Chicago office prepared this Law Alert