Island Lake trustee candidates call for public-comment rules during village meetings
The candidates running for village board seats in Island Lake would like limitations enacted on public comments at meetings to keep sessions professional and efficient.
Trustee Thea Morris called meetings "kind of a free for all" because of a lack of rules governing public comment.
A second candidate, police Commissioner Debra Jenkins, said the occasionally heated exchanges with residents "might be a little unhealthy."
Four candidates are running for three seats with 4-year terms. Morris and Jenkins will be joined on the ballot by incumbent John Burke and political newcomer Sandy Hartogh.
The candidates discussed public conduct at board meetings and meeting efficiency during a group interview at the Daily Herald's Libertyville office.
Unlike most other governmental agencies in the area, Island Lake officials allow residents to speak throughout board meetings, not just during specific public comment sections. Mayor Charles Amrich rarely stops residents from participating in discussions.
There are two public comment periods during board meetings, one at the start of a session and one at the end. Residents regularly ask questions of officials and get answers during those periods.
The back-and-forth occasionally gets heated. And extended debates with residents have sometimes kept the board from conducting its business quickly.
"As much as I love that you can go in and you can ask a trustee (a question) and they will give you an answer on the spot, I think there's something to why other communities just say, 'Thank you for your comment," said Jenkins, who has been on the police commission since April 2014. "It might be a little unhealthy, the trustees answering right there."
Hartogh, a former Daily Herald freelance reporter who has never held public office, also likes that residents can get questions answered at meetings. However, she supports limitations on public comments.
"You can ask a question, but you have (only) one question to ask," she said.
Hartogh also said she dislikes when audience members interrupt each other during public comment portions of meetings.
Burke, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in August 2014, favored limiting public comments to the two specific sections.
"The public has to wait their turn to go, because it drags stuff out," he said.
Morris, who was elected to the board in 2009, also said residents shouldn't be allowed to call out from their seats in the audience during meetings.
She suggested officials can encourage communication with residents by being more responsive via email.
"We need to develop those types of communication tools for our residents so they don't feel there's only twice a month they can reach us," Morris said.