New policy for public comments at county board meetings starts this Tuesday
Cook County Commissioner Sue Hakes wants members of the public to feel welcome at county board meetings, and she wants to hear what they have to say. On Tuesday, July 10 the board adopted guidelines for the public comment period, held near the beginning of the meeting, after some discussion of what those guidelines would be.
At a previous meeting Commissioner Hakes had volunteered to draft wording for the guidelines. She said she used the word “welcome” intentionally. Her proposal addressed how long a speaker could speak and how long the comment period would last as well as how the board would respond to issues put before them.
The commissioners discussed the wording of the policy, including how much dialogue they wanted to allow between the public and the board during this portion of the meeting. County Attorney Tim Scannell said the public comment period had been created to give the public opportunity to bring issues to the board that the board could put on its agenda for later discussion. Lance Johnson of Lutsen suggested that a policy like this could have a “chilling effect” on people wanting to speak to the board. “I think it runs counter to open and transparent proceedings,” he said. “I think this is a bad idea and I think you should throw it out the window.”
“Lance, I think you have some good points there,” said Commissioner Fritz Sobanja. He pointed out that citizens can contact their commissioners to express concerns as well. “Give them a call to see how they can help you,” he said. He stated that sometimes people come to county board meetings to make disparaging remarks about the commissioners during the public comment period, and then the newspaper puts it in the paper so they can “sell more papers.”
With some adjustments to Commissioner Hakes’ proposal, the board passed the public comment period guidelines, although Sobanja said he would rather see a committee, with members of the public on it, deal with the issue first.