I would like to thank the Northern Star’s staff for their reporting on my lawsuit with the Student Association throughout its course. But to your own credit, without the editorial following the closed session meeting on Nov. 22, 2015, I would not have picked up on the research and filed a complaint. Unfortunately, due to the length of the lawsuit and the history relevant to it, I doubt that either the student body, the Student Association or any of the individual editors are fully aware of the significance that the Northern Star’s reporting has played in this long series of events. It is my hope that more students would be inspired to write for the Star, as the stories it tells have had rippling effects decades after their publication. It truly is, in the fullest sense, making history.
Ombudsperson Sarah Klaper is also deserving of some thanks. Before my term in the Student Association, she had advised me on another matter and referred me to the Citizen Advocacy Center – a nonprofit organization she had worked for prior to coming to NIU and which I am now a member on their Young Professionals Leadership Council. Their mission is to assist citizens in interacting with local government by educating them on the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act, and they are who helped me obtain legal counsel.
Despite the Student Association’s continued denials that there was any violation (as an aside, it was nothing about the meeting agenda, but that they took final action during an improperly held closed session meeting). I was less interested in finding them guilty of it. Rather, the point of my lawsuit was to ensure that there was never again any doubt over whether the Student Association was subject to the OMA and that it would be complied with from now on. The complaint alleges “18. NIU Senate is a public body as those terms are defined in the OMA,” and their answer to the complaint responded with, “The Defendant admits the allegations contained in Paragraph 18.” I cannot overstate the importance of this.
The Student Association could have ended this lawsuit sooner, but it chose not to. In the fall of 2016, they rejected the original offer to settle, which asked for admission that it was a public body and paying $5,000 in reasonable attorney fees. Instead, they passed legislation requiring Senators to complete the online OMA training and motioned to dismiss the lawsuit based on mootness. Their motion was denied, thanks to evidence supplied by your past reporting, which showed that such post-litigation policy changes could not guarantee future compliance. As a result, they were forced to answer the complaint and $5,000 became $7,500. It is appropriate that this money has come out of Student Legal Assistance given their poor counsel.
Otherwise, I have reservations that your comparison of my lawsuit with Misty Haji-Sheikh’s is very pragmatic. There are profuse differences of political contexts and circumstances that are too lengthy to detail in merely a letter, but it should suffice to say that their costs don’t necessarily correlate with the severity of the mistakes made, potential for others to learn from them, or anyone’s inability to do so. However, the precedent from [Board of Regents of the Regency University System v. Reynard] 1997 that made the Student Association subject to the OMA does for University Council as well. So, Michael Haji-Sheikh used this knowledge to compel their compliance last December, and then in February, I used it again to argue that the Faculty Senate must comply with it. The point to be made is that not all matters of OMA compliance have been addressed through the court. I think that’s something to be optimistic about.
Lastly, the Student Association wishes to “move on” to other matters and represent students. I feel as if they haven’t realized that this matter is essential in doing that. I’ll have more to say about this in the future.