WJOL has been reporting that public comment at City of Joliet meetings was going to be limited to 60 and 30 minutes. But now a change. The Public Speaking proposed Ordinance is being removed from Thursday’s Land Use/ Legislative meeting. A letter was sent to Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and city council members detailing the reasons why by corporation counsel Marty Shanahan.
City Councilwoman Jan Quillman tells WJOL that, “it just wasn’t right to limit public comment” and she put pressure on Shanahan to take the measure off the agenda. Councilman Pat Mudron tells WJOL that Shanahan spoke with most of the Council and says, “he had no support for the ordinance.”
Letter below unedited.
Mayor & Council-
Public Speaking proposed Ordinance being removed from tomorrow’s Land Use/ Legislative meeting.
To provide the background on the proposed Public Speaking Rules, this is something that has been on my radar for a long time/ it was maybe a decade ago that there were many days of public comment in a town (it may have been Lockport?) on a controversial issue (construction of a Wal-Mart if my memory is correct). The question municipal attorneys asked (and have been asking) is how to allow City business to move forward when this happens but not run afoul of the Open Meetings Act?
5 ILCS 120/2.06 (g) of the Open Meetings Act states that the Council can have rules established and recorded by the public body. Cases interpreting this section (and others similar in other states) have essentially held that Councils do not have to allow indefinite public comment so long as the established rules are reasonable. Joliet does not have an “established” rule limiting public comment to a set period of time.
Other Illinois towns and cities have limitations on the amount of time spent on public comment (which seems to be the hang-up in the proposed Ordinance) e.g. Chicago 30 minutes (except for budget hearings), Homewood 30 min for non-agenda items, Winnetka 30 minutes, Tinley 45 minutes, Lockport 20 minutes, Naperville 30 minutes (then public comment moved to the end of the agenda). I picked an hour because it was more than all of the other communities’ time limitations and from what I could recall, since I’ve been here, just about all of the time spent on public comments at each meeting has been less than an hour.
Putting this more in the forefront again was a January 2019 Illinois Attorney General binding opinion where there was a challenge to an un-established/ not clearly recorded limit of 15 minutes for public speaking. The AG opinion held that this was contrary to the Open Meetings Act since the 15 minute public speaking rule was not established and recorded by the public body. Because of this opinion, Joliet Public Speaking rules was put back on my to-do list (nothing to do with any other un-named projects or potential projects).
Some of the Council members have reached out to me to express concern – and the potential public backlash – so I am going back to the drawing board with this and I am going to request this item be removed from tomorrow’s Land Use/ Legislative meeting.
Keep in mind that in the event that there is an agenda item that would possibly take up an inordinate amount of time and perhaps so much time that public comment on a pre-Council night would continue to the next day, the same day as the Council meeting (meaning the Council meeting would have to be postponed/ continued because we are still hearing public comment on pre-Council), please call me. There are alternative options.
Original story below
WJOL has learned that the city of Joliet is denying public access to the NorthPoint development agreement ahead of the Zoning and Planning Commission meeting on October 17th. A group has filed a FOIA request which has been denied. Furthermore, the City of Joliet has on its agenda for the legislative committee, which meets October 10th, measures to severely limit public testimony during public hearings. If passed, it could be presented to the city council for a full vote on October 15th, which could put these new, severely restrictive rules in place 2 days before the public hearing for NorthPoint.
The total comment period for “public hearings” during Regular or Combined Meetings of the Council, Council sub-committee meetings, Zoning Board of Appeals and Plan Commission meetings, shall be limited to a total of 60 minutes per public hearing. And the total comment period for “citizens to be heard” during the Pre-Council Meeting of the Council shall be limited to a total of 30 minutes. If you recall, the testimony in Elwood’s public hearing regarding NorthPoint ran for three nights with nearly 100 speakers for about 14 hours – nearly all opposing the development. A proposal by NorthPoint for a zoning change of 103 acres of land in Joliet will be considered on October 17th. Currently it’s zoned agricultural/residential and NorthPoint is hoping to change that to light industrial. The 103 acre parcel of land is located on the south side of Breen Road just east of Rowell Avenue in Joliet.