River Forest trustees debated procedures for audience communication and official reconsideration of previous votes at a board meeting on Feb. 11, talking over whether trustees should be able to change their votes following a meeting, limiting citizen comment to 30-minutes, banning repetitive arguments, and more.
“I do think there is value in giving us an opportunity to admit our mistakes,” Trustee Tom Cargie said at the meeting. He added that “it was me that drove” the idea of trustees being able to change their vote — but only if they were on the winning side of the argument — at a separate meeting after they were cast. He said he was inspired to champion the measure after changing his mind on an individual residential zoning issue, which was scheduled to be voted on again immediately after trustees voted on whether officials should be allowed to make motions of reconsideration at a subsequent meeting.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Dan Lauber [see Viewpoints, page 31] said he believed motions for reconsideration should stay as they are and be limited to the current meeting. He said he was “surprised” about the rule change, and that residents could benefit from a rule that requires two readings of an ordinance before it can be voted on.
“With how long it could be before there’s a reconsideration, all sorts of mischief could happen,” Lauber said. “I don’t think it could happen with this board, but I do know with past boards it could have happened, where there would be ex parte contact with a board on a quasi-judicial matter. There could be political pressure placed on someone to change their vote and, if you have a month or two weeks to do that, things can happen.”
Trustee Patty Henek likewise said she was “not really comfortable” with the proposed reconsideration rule.
“Our job as a trustee is to prepare and research what’s before us,” Henek said. “If it’s gone through a commission, they’ve certainly looked at it different ways and come up with recommendations, [then] we should come to the meeting prepared to vote.”
Village President Cathy Adduci compared the motion to reconsider to a second reading of a village ordinance, saying: “If there’s a trustee, or two, or three, who feel they made a mistake, we should allow them to think about it.”
Trustees unanimously agreed to table deciding whether trustees could make motions to reconsider until a later meeting. They also tabled voting on whether to restrict resident comments to those only relevant to village business and that are not repetitive; forcing those who wished to speak to sign-in prior to the meeting; limiting total public comment to 30-minutes; and other considerations.
Trustee Carmela Corsini said there wasn’t any particular reason the village was inspired to look at the official rules governing public comment. “We, on an ongoing basis, review our ordinances, policies and procedures,” she said at the meeting. Trustee Mike Gibbs likewise said there wasn’t any problem the village was trying to solve.
“I look at this as just cleaning up the ability to have future board meetings,” he said at the meeting. “By not having a hot topic before us right now, that topic isn’t clouding the discussion. Because if we had something controversial before us, people might say, ‘You’re trying to knock people down.'”
But during the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Erika Bachner wondered why the board would aim to limit the number of public speakers at a regular meeting, calling codifying the prohibition of repeated statements “stifling.”
“If anything, the village board should be looking for ways to broaden the back-and-forth communication with residents,” she said.
Resident Deb Wolkstein said limiting repetitive comments would split every issue evenly and not allow either side to show a greater portion of support.
“If you do not allow us to speak at public meetings, how do you really hear from us?” Wolkstein said at the meeting. “Now you may say that we can reach out to you personally by email, or when we see you out and about at the country club or church or at common friends’ parties, but the truth for me, and I expect for many others, is that I don’t really know any of you personally.”
Adduci said the move to ban repetitive comments, disruptive speakers and limit the time and total time for public comment was made in an effort to streamline meetings and prioritize a diversity of viewpoints. She recalled when members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) showed up at a board meeting, making hours of repetitive comment, and the board could do nothing to end the conversation.
“If there’s a way you can streamline it, I think that would be important that we should all think about,” she said at the meeting. “We certainly don’t want to mute people; we don’t want them to not come up to speak.”