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Is ban on public comment legal?  

Credit:  By David Giuliani - Shaw News Service, www.bcrnews.com 14 March 2011 ~~

DIXON – A committee reviewing Lee County’s wind farm ordinance has made one thing clear: No public comments during meetings.

That may fly in the face of a new provision of the state Open Meetings Act.

The committee has been meeting for months but has banned public comment, saying it needs to focus on the task at hand.

On Jan. 1, the new Open Meetings Act provision took effect, stating, “Any person shall be permitted to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.”

Josh Sharp, a spokesman of the Illinois Press Association, said it’s clear the spirit of the law was to allow public comment during meetings.

“Some public bodies have tried to skirt that law, saying there are loopholes,” he said.

Craig Buhrow, the wind committee’s vice chairman, said the panel follows the advice of the state’s attorney when it comes to legal questions about procedures.

“We kept hearing the same comments over and over again,” he said. “There was nothing new.”

He noted that the zoning board of appeals took much public comment during a meeting in July. All five members of the board are on the wind committee, which also includes three other members from the public.

Steve Robery, a committee member calling for more regulation of wind farms, opposes the ban on public comments.

“Whether there is a law or not, it seems to me that if you have a public body that will affect people, it should allow public comment,” he said.

Robery said he understands there should be limits.

“It’s certainly reasonable that the committee chairman should be able to establish some rules so that order is maintained,” he said. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t get anything done.”

At committee meetings, pro-industry representatives sit on one side of the room while those pushing more regulation are on the other.

Recently, a pro-industry representative started to speak up during a meeting, but an opponent interrupted, saying public input wasn’t allowed.

Ron Conderman, the committee’s chairman, declined a request for an interview.

Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon couldn’t be reached by phone Friday.

Source:  By David Giuliani - Shaw News Service, www.bcrnews.com 14 March 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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