Naperville city officials, in an effort to run council meetings more efficiently, are making it more difficult for certain groups of people, for various legitimate reasons, to be heard. Some folks are concerned about COVID, others are physically challenged, while some are unable to access transportation to meetings.
Not that long ago, folks were allowed to submit written comments, which were read by staff, for all to hear. At times there were quite a few, but for the most part, written comments were more than reasonable in number. Most importantly, it allowed people to have their viewpoints heard. Shouldn’t that be a major focus of every governing body, especially local city councils; encouraging participation with open communication.
The Naperville city council withdrew the opportunity for written comments to be read. Now the city council makes written comments to be formally part of the record by burying the comments in the city website. Frankly, it’s an insult.
A former member of the city council admitted during a meeting that she leaves research to the city staff. You have to give her credit for being honest, however how many current council members, have the same position on pulling information (or not) to better understand the sentiments of residents.
Watch and listen to resident Tim Messer present his concerns, followed by Mayor Steve Chirico making a comment “balance of running a meeting efficiently while providing as much assess as possible”, which is followed by newly elected councilwoman Jennifer Taylor, asking for clarification:
Good for councilwoman Taylor for pressing the process, in essence protecting public participation. Burying comments by the public may be expedient and good for the council, but if better is possible, then good is not enough for the public.
In a perfect world, were everyone acts out of respect for each other and the process of government, I would agree that no longer reading these comments into the record and instead simply having them made part of the public record is problematic.
But there have been several instances recently were the public comments (oral and written) have been used less to inform and more to delay or thwart the process of governance. Instance were emails, phone calls, texts, etc have been sent out to large groups of people encouraging them to sign up to either speak or have a comment read, a comment that has been provided to them, solely to overwhelm council and staff with the hopes of creating such a logistical nightmare it delays city government action long enough to kill the project (as happened with 5th Avenue and is currently happening with Islamic Center).
Yes, residents need to be heard and respected, but petitioners also deserve to be heard and respected an these type of coordinated attacks on the process of governance, not only show disrespect for these petitioners but also for city government, city staff and elected officials.
It is not only nature, but critical that city government find a way to restore balance to the process so that government can operated in the best interests of the community as a whole and not be manipulated to serve just those small groups in our community that have the resources to launch these type of attacks and impose their will and what best serves their interests on the entire community.
The city does have a legislative rule that limits public comments (both oral and submitted for reading) to 30 minutes. So far the city council has been able to manage to avoid enforcing this rule by council members voting to extend the public comment time beyond the 30 minutes limit. But if special interest groups continue to abuse the process, demonstrating their disrespect for council and city staff, then the time will come were it will become necessary to eliminate the option to extend this comment period beyond 30 minutes by city council.
When that day come, and I believe it will, it will be a sad one, but and undeniably necessary one. These ad hoc public speaking city council filibusters must end.