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Letter to the Editor: Public Comment at City Council Meetings

Letter writer and Yorkville area resident Mark Johnson discusses recent proposals for restructuring public comment at City Council meetings.

Taxpayer input at meetings is precarious at best and may even be disruptive at times. This is partly because of the elected officials’ egos, partly from our government’s rules, and partly from the passions of the citizens. Some question if citizens’ comments are a good thing at all. I believe they are.

Taxpayers have an opportunity to read through the city’s packet of information after the city places it out on the city website approximately 3-4 days before the meeting. This month the city packet was 1120 pages long. 75% of it was historical but necessary to explain what the agenda was on the given night. The real problem is that unless a citizen attends every committee meeting and every department meeting there is a lot of confusing data to go through. Compound that with the fact that citizens try to read all the information, do their due diligence, and prepare to question the Council on the subjects and you end up with problems. Then comes the actual City Council meeting when citizens have no right to ask questions or join the discussion with their elected officials in real time. The only time citizens have an opportunity to question any subject on the agenda is at what is called “Citizens’ Comments” time, always at the very beginning of meetings.

This leads many citizens to try to understand what is happening before it actually happens. This has lead me and many others to jump to conclusions way too soon but on the positive side it also draws attention to flaws in the logic the Council may have been under. It also makes for a long night in the City Hall Chambers for everyone. These long nights have been an issue for many years and are being discussed again by this Council.

The Council is currently discussing changing citizens’ comments to a section prior to the agenda and another at the end of the night. They have also discussed that all comments be limited to 5 minutes if they have asked permission to speak ahead of time. Last night the Council debated citizens’ comments again and agreed to disagree. No one wanted to limit the citizens’ First Amendment rights but all agreed that some comments are a waste of time. My problem with this is that who will be the one saying your comments aren’t worth their time? The Mayor? A committee of Aldermen? When you head down that road it is a very slippery slope.

I will be the first to admit that at times I have jumped to early conclusions based on what I interpret from the information. There just isn’t enough time to contact every Alderman, read the packet, and put together comments for or against a given proposal. I guess that is why we leave it up to our representatives to make good decisions for us. But with today’s society I find it is too easy to allow lobbyists to control our government and the only defense comes from the citizens. Right now I see our city in serious financial condition. In my opinion we have lost our way in fiscal responsibility to the people and I speak out when I have the opportunity.

As I stated last evening, “Council, you may not like what I have to say but I have a right to say it.” This Council must find a better way for citizens to be engaged in the conversation or leave the system alone. It has served the American people for over 200 years and I believe it still serves today. We all have said some really dumb things at times and I have been bored to tears with other’s comments but whether we are right or wrong, we have that right. Don’t limit anyone’s speech unless you have a better solution. When citizens have no right to speak until after the vote is taken and it is too late to change anything, it’s not the citizens’ fault – it is the government process that is broken.

Mark A Johnson, Yorkville

Letters to the Editor should be e-mailed to Yorkville Patch Editor Jillian Duchnowski at jillian.duchnowski@patch.com. Please include your full name and a telephone number so Duchnowski can confirm the sender's identity.

Reasonable Conservative June 28, 2012 at 07:32 PM
I agree with you Chris, but it is counter productive to yell and scream at anyone. If the community does not like what the elected officials are doing they can be voted out. It is that simple and it is our system. I pay their salaries, too, however, I do not want their time wasted on someone's rambling when they could be filling out a new funding proposal or attending a boy scout meeting with our kids. Getting elected means being a leader, not someone's whipping boy. Take your aggression out at the poles and organize with like minded individuals. Lets turn the other cheek and vote our goals and dreams into existence. If no one supports your agenda then let it be; you have no right to force anyone to do anything, but you may peaceably persuade them to join you.
Judith Burks June 28, 2012 at 08:49 PM
I agree with Mark. It is a fundamental right to free speech that we afford to all citizens. I for 1 have no problem sitting quietly and listening to whatever a speaker feels is important ans they need/want to share with the group at large. I will also say I have not experienced anyone who has abused this opportunity. There have been some pretty important issues that people feel very passionately about. I do not feel that the comments of another hinder anyone from getting up there and speaking if they so choose. I also applaud Mark and anyone else who gets out of the coffee shop gripe session and up off the couch to try to make our community a better place for everyone. We may not always agree how that is to be accomplished but if we don't talk about it and share our ideas and opinions we leave ourselves open to never being a part of shaping how the community works and benefits the Greater good.
Mark A Johnson June 28, 2012 at 09:37 PM
This is what the letter to the Editor is all about - free speech! Glad to see all the comments. Now if I could actually persuade each of you to attend the meetings and become engaged in the conversation then I would have accomplished a lot. As for the yelling and screaming part, it's obvious you weren't there since it really was a cordial city council meeting by everyone - long, yes, but cordial. No yelling or screaming was heard.
Chris Fox June 28, 2012 at 10:35 PM
I was exagerating to get my point accross. I am not condoning yelling and screaming at the meetings. They do that enough in Springfield. I get upset when people suggest that we should censor questions. Who is the judge of whether or not one person is rambling or not? Maybe I think someone may be talking about something "I" am not interested in or that "I" feel is irrelevant but they have a right to say it. If the city wants to limit who can say what or who can ask questions then free speech is dead. If you dont like what is being said then leave.
RONALD MOLCHANOV July 04, 2012 at 08:21 AM
I AGREE WITH YOU 100% MORE PEOPLE SHOULD GET INVOLVED WITH THE POLITICAL PROCESS AND VOICE YOUR OPINIONS. RIGHT ON !!!

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