McLean County makes a mockery of Open Meetings Act
In 2010, the Illinois General Assembly unanimously affirmed the right of citizens to speak at public meetings in stating: “Any person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.” In a sense, McLean County is complying with this state rule. In reality, county officials...
In 2010, the Illinois General Assembly unanimously affirmed the right of citizens to speak at public meetings in stating: “Any person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.”
In a sense, McLean County is complying with this state rule. In reality, county officials are making it all but impossible for citizens to voice their concerns.
McLean County requires citizens to register their request to speak before the board, including specifying subject matter to be discussed, five business days in advance of meetings.
The problem is local governments are not required to post agendas until 48 hours prior to a public meeting, according to the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
That means McLean County citizens must declare their intention to speak, along with disclosing the subject matter, before they have any idea what topics the County Board will take up.
That’s a great way to stifle dissent and criticism of the board’s actions.
The county also limits individual comments to three minutes, allowing a total of 15 minutes for all public comments. If five people address the board using their full allotted time, the sixth person wishing to talk can get blocked by the board.
This policy sends a chilling statement to citizens to not even bother getting involved in local democracy. As local resident Diane Benjamin noted, “McLean County Board doesn’t want to hear from you.”
McLean County’s unreasonable interpretation of the Open Meetings Act makes a mockery of the democratic process and stifles public participation. The board should give citizens and taxpayers the opportunity to actively participate and provide feedback to their elected officials at board meetings.
Many local governments accomplish this by reserving multiple opportunities for citizens to address their elected officials at public meetings.
For example, in my hometown of Buffalo Grove, the village allows citizens five minutes to address the board on any items relevant to village business, including the items on the agenda. No sign in is required – all you have to do is walk up to the podium, signal you’d like to talk and wait your turn. The board and staff actively listen and answer citizen questions prior to voting on agenda items.
Other local governments require citizens to register ahead of time by signing in immediately prior to a meeting. Others reserve blocks of time at the beginning, middle or end of the meeting for citizens to talk. Some boards respond to citizens, other just listen and move on with their regular business.
It’s not difficult to comply with the state’s requirement that everyone have the right to have their voice heard – unless your message to the public is “go away, we don’t want to be bothered.”