Listen Up, DeKalb. Public Meetings Must Allow Public Comment


**Update: You may have noticed we were offline most of the day yesterday, due to the host’s making a change in server hardware. The last step, restoration of data via a backup, left a draft version of this post that I’ve tinkered with and republished.

Winnebago County has opened up its board committee meetings to public comment, according to an article.

There’s a federal lawsuit involved and the judge in the case has confirmed the requirement for public comment, though the county claims it has always planned to comply with the new provision of the Open Meetings Act anyhow. The Open Meetings Act is a state law.

The county began to allow public comment at committee meetings after the newly elected board organized on Dec. 3. The move was needed to comply with a 2011 change to the Open Meetings Act.

Mike “C” Castronovo filed the lawsuit Feb. 23, 2011 in part because he was denied the ability to speak at a May 2009 Public Works Committee meeting.

Castronovo’s lawsuit stems from a time before the change to the Open Meetings Act, said Deputy State’s Attorney Dave Kurlinkus. The decision to open meetings for public comment was not a response to Castronovo’s lawsuit, “but it certainly was called to our attention through it,” Kurlinkus said.

Maybe it wasn’t a response to the lawsuit, and maybe it was. But hearing from a federal judge on the matter must be somewhat reinforcing, yes?

So, at some point, this piece of the Municipal Code is going to get the City of DeKalb in trouble:

c) The intent and purpose of Committee of the Whole Meetings shall be primarily for discussion of consideration items brought before the Council and various matters which require a presentation and/or upon which discussion is anticipated, but not for the passage of Ordinances or Resolutions. No public comments shall be entertained at such Committee of the Whole Meetings.(91-98)

County board committee meetings are not primarily for discussing passage of ordinances and resolutions, either, yet now it is clear they must allow public comment.

I emailed all council members with a link to the Star article to ask who would be willing to place the issue back on a meeting agenda. It’s been about a week and no one has responded. I am kind of torn between irritation at the lack of professionalism and sympathy for what must have been the sudden, shocking realization that they may have gotten bad legal advice.