A change in the Illinois Open Meetings Act that covers the rights of citizens to comment at public meetings, stirred a contentious debate at Tuesday night's La Grange Park Board of Trustees meeting.
The change in Illinois law now states that citizens have a right to a public comment period at public meetings, but also allows public bodies like the village board to set rules covering when, where and for how long the public can address the body.
The item was inserted into the board’s meeting schedule prior to the board’s discussion of its agenda items, presumably to pass the board’s proposed rules prior to a period of public comment in the meeting, so that those comments could be governed by the board’s newly set rules.
In La Grange Park, the proposed new rules would include the following:
- Prior to the meeting, citizens would need to sign up with their name and address on a sheet on a table in boardroom.
- Speakers would be required to approach the microphone and state their name and address.
- Each speaker’s comments would be limited to between 2 and 3 minutes.
- Speakers would lose their right to make comments if they used obscene, profain or threatening language.
- The village president would reserve the right to disallow comments that were repetitive, or comments that did not address Village services, business and/or governance.
However, Trustee Marshall Seeder made a motion to allow the public to comment on the item prior to the board passing the new rules, saying that the public should be allowed to comment on the rules that will govern their comments at public meetings.
“Makes sense,” agreed Trustee Rimas Kozica. “I’ll second that.”
Trustee Scott Mesick was the only trustee to vote against the motion.
The board briefly discussed the proposed rules, with several trustees stating their preference for allowing three minutes of time for each speaker’s comments as opposed to two.
When the board then opened the floor to public comments on the proposed rules, Village President Jim Discipio acknowledged that the board was momentarily without any rules governing the public’s comments, but requested that speakers keep their comments brief and on topic.
Resident Jason Vitel asked, “Why would we want to limit our participation in our government.”
Vitel said he was in favor of 3 minutes of speaking time as opposed to 2 minutes, and specifically questioned the village president’s motives in where he would draw the line on off topic and repetitive comments.
Resident Jack Ryder suggested that if a speaker’s comments could not fit into the timeframe granted by the board, a speaker could submit a written statement along with those comments to be entered into the public record.
Resident Tony Garippo questioned whether the language concerning the president’s ability to disallow a speaker’s comments was too open.
“The restrictions on content seem a little onerous,” Garippo said. “It could be subject to pretty loose interpretation.”
At the close of public comment on the proposed rules, Discipio attempted to move forward with a second round of board discussion to come to an agreement on the rules prior to a vote to approve them, only to become visibly frustrated when Trustee Kozica requested the discussion be tabled.
“Mr. President, I really think that at this point in time, that some of the conditions from our residents that we go back to the work session and hammer this out a little longer… I think we’re going to be here for a little bit. I think that would be better for a work session and maybe make that an action at the work session,” Kozica said.
“I’d prefer to keep going,” President Discipio responded.
When several members of the board agreed to push the action on the item to a following work session, the president requested a favor that the board at least vote on a time limitation.
“Can we at least agree on a time limit?” Discipio asked.
A time limitation of 3 minutes beginning after the speaker has recorded their name and address was passed 5-0. A second motion to postpone discussion on the rest of the items was also approved 5-0.
The board will discuss and likely vote on the rest of the proposed rule at their next Village Board Workshop.