DIXON – A Lee County committee studying the wind farm issue earlier this year banned members of the public from airing their views during meetings.
But the attorney general’s office has ruled that the prohibition broke state law.
At the beginning of the year, a new provision in the Open Meetings Act required that “any person be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.”
Franklin Grove Mayor Bob Logan, who attended meetings of the county’s ad hoc committee on the wind farm issue, and others complained about the ban on public input. But the panel didn’t change its practice.
Logan filed an appeal to the public access counselor with the state attorney general’s office.
In a May 5 letter to the attorney general, Dee Duffy, Lee County’s Freedom of Information Act officer, told the attorney general that the committee made clear that the meetings simply were to evaluate the current county ordinance on wind turbines.
She noted that the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals had a 2-hour public hearing on the issue on July 8.
The ad hoc committee – which consisted of the zoning board, plus three others – had monthly meetings through the winter. The members’ recommendations went to the Zoning Board, which may suggest changes to the ordinance to the Lee County Board.
In a June 6 legal opinion, Assistant Attorney General Tola Sobitan said the county was required to allow public participation at its meetings. The agency found that the county didn’t have any “established or recorded” rules governing public comments at its meetings.
Because of the violation, the attorney general’s office asked that the County Board “immediately take steps to establish and record rules governing the public’s right to speak at its meetings.” Those rules should be applied consistently, Sobitan said.
Ron Conderman, chairman of the ad hoc committee and the zoning board, said the board would allow public input at its meetings.
Asked if State’s Attorney Henry Dixon advised the committee on the public input issue, Conderman declined to comment.
Dixon couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
Craig Buhrow, the panel’s vice chairman, said the committee wanted to focus on the work at hand.
“We weren’t going to meet until midnight to hear the same thing over and over again,” he said. “We asked different people on the committee for input, instead of having 20 people at the microphone.”
Logan said he merely wanted the county government to become open with the people and listen.
The Zoning Board will have its next meeting Thursday. It plans to discuss possible changes to the wind farm ordinance.
The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals meets at 7 p.m. Thursday on the third floor of the Old County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St.
The board will review the county’s ordinance on wind farms.
For more information, call the zoning office at 815-288-3643.
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