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Article updated: 2/13/2013 4:59 PM

Island Lake trustees looking at limiting public comment at village board meetings

By Russell Lissau

Island Lake trustees on Thursday will consider a measure that would reduce and restrict the public's opportunity to comment about issues before the village board.

If approved, the new rules would eliminate the second of two public comment segments during board meetings.

Additionally, the proposal would give officials the right to have people removed from meetings if they are disruptive or make comments that are "personal, impertinent, slanderous, threatening, obscene or profane."

People who make "loud, threatening, personal or abusive" remarks also could be barred from the audience the proposal says.

Mayor Debbie Herrmann's critics say the measure is an effort to censure the public.

"I think it's going to stifle what the people want to say," said ex-mayor Charles Amrich, who's challenging Herrmann for her job. "You should be able to have some open dialogue with your residents."

Trustee Laurie Rabattini, an outspoken Herrmann foe, opposes the plan, too.

"I am astonished by the lengths to which this mayor and board will go to asphyxiate the voices and concerns of residents," Rabattini said in an email.

But Trustee Thea Morris believes the rules need to be clarified, particularly because of the way some audience members have distorted the public comment segments of recent meetings.

"Public comment should be a time to communicate to the board as a whole regarding the business of the village," Morris said. "It should not be a time for politicking and personal attacks."

Herrmann said she thinks the proposed rule changes are fair. She called the second public comment section, typically held near the end of meetings, "redundant."

The ordinance will be put to a vote nearly a month after angry residents bombarded Herrmann and other officials with questions and statements at an electoral board hearing.

Herrmann responded to the comments at first, but the session turned increasingly hostile and eventually she announced she was ending the dialogue. That drew even more criticism from the audience.

Amrich, who's been a regular speaker at meetings since announcing his candidacy, acknowledged the need to maintain order.

"But you also have to maintain respect for the residents who are there asking the questions," Amrich said.

Amrich is leading a slate of candidates against Herrmann and a team of her political allies. Last week, a three-member electoral board ruled him ineligible as a candidate because of a debt to the village. A Lake County judge put that ruling on hold pending a court hearing.

Resident Mark Beeson, who's running as part of Amrich's slate, said he's disappointed by the public-comment proposal.

Officials want the public to "sit down, watch (and) shut up," Beeson said.

Trustee Shannon Fox defended the proposal.

"We have simply clarified, for the benefit of all, rules of decorum that have always existed so that any and all may feel safe and secure in their ability to stand up and be heard, or sit and listen, without fear of recourse or personal attack," Fox said in an email.

She also stressed the changes would formally expand public comment time to a minimum of 30 minutes, if needed. The measure also eliminates the need to vote to open the floor to the public, something most other boards do without a vote.

Trustee Sam Cicero isn't sure if he'll back the proposal. He said he'd like to respond to people's comments occasionally.

"(But) being called 'liar' all the time is getting pretty old," Cicero said.

Thursday's meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. at village hall, 3720 Greenleaf Ave.

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