Wauconda could limit public comment, impose penalties
Wauconda residents could soon face new rules for public comment at village board meetings.
A three-minute time limit has been proposed. So have procedures for dealing with unruly audience members, including their removal from meetings.
During the past year, audience members have used the public comment section of meetings to criticize Mayor Frank Bart and other officials on a variety of issues, including the dismissal of a police chief, a proposal to outsource 911 services and the delayed plans to bring Lake Michigan drinking water to town.
Some speakers have expressed their opinions courteously. Others have not been as polite.
"In my opinion, the back and forth has degenerated to an inappropriate level and I think it got to point where we needed to implement these measures to get back to a productive, professional atmosphere during our meetings," Village Administrator Doug Maxeiner told the Daily Herald in an email Wednesday.
Earlier this year, public comment was moved to the start of meetings. Some comments and questions have been allowed during meetings as interesting subjects arose.
The latest rules were proposed at Tuesday night's board meeting. They could be approved at the board's next scheduled meeting Sept. 16.
A sample document called "Citizens' Guide to Village Meetings" that enumerates the proposed rules was created for Bart and the trustees.
The document says, in part:
• Anyone who disrupts meetings by being "discourteous, belligerent, impertinent, threatening, disparaging or otherwise uncivil" may be prevented from speaking publicly for the rest of the meeting or "evicted from the premises."
• Speakers are not entitled to responses during public comment time.
• Public comment shall be limited to three minutes per person unless the mayor allows more or less time.
The time limit was proposed to prevent one person from monopolizing the conversation, Maxeiner said.
"We've all seen someone, sometimes multiple persons, come into meetings with a laundry list of grievances, complaints and questions," he said. "Hopefully, someone with that much to talk about will take the mayor or trustees up on their offer to meet and discuss their concerns rather than spend time during a business meeting to hold an interrogation session."
If approved, a brochure with the rules could be available online and at village hall, Maxeiner said.
Wauconda resident Jason Laureys, a regular audience member at board meetings, doesn't think the plan's timing is right.
"I just think limiting public comment now, with all that has been going on, will exacerbate the current problems and issues," Laureys said in an email to the Daily Herald. "I think it will add to the distrust many currently feel toward the mayor and current administration."
Kelly Kledzik, the daughter of former mayor Mark Knigge, is among the more outspoken residents at meetings. She criticized the proposed rules in a long letter posted to Facebook.
"All it does is further alienate the residents and give more power to the mayor," Kledzik wrote.