Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

January 16, 2013

Public participation topic of Effingham City Council meeting

Nicole Dominique
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — With the goal of allowing residents enough time to speak, Effingham City Council commissioners zeroed in on their public participation policy Tuesday night.

Some commissioners were concerned about the message a public comment time limit could send. City Attorney Tracy Berberich pointed out how that situation could lead to legal issues.

"Case law does recommend that you have that policy in place," she said.

Commissioner Matt Hirtzel argued that a limit might imply the council doesn't care about residents' concerns.

He suggested using a time limit when necessary, and making that call at the time of the meeting.

Berberich pointed out that doing this on a case-by-case basis could be viewed as discrimination, and lead to litigation.

"I'm not saying what time limit to establish," she said. "You need to have that policy in place ... Take that argument from them ... You don't want to wait until you have the issue."

She reminded the council that no one, not even Mayor Merv Gillenwater, has the right to deny a resident the right to speak at a public meeting.

The differences between public meetings and public hearings were also discussed to ensure commissioner understanding.

"I wouldn't have it open-ended and then say 'but we can make it stricter when we deem you to be unreasonable,'" Berberich said. "Who makes that decision?"

City Administrator Jim Arndt encouraged the use of speaker cards, to be filled out by residents on concerns, and turned in before 5 p.m. on the meeting day.

"This way we can prepare for it and try to meet their needs," he said.

Nicole Dominique can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, or at nicole.dominique@effinghamdailynews.com.