Does Elgin, Illinois City Council’s Amendment to Its Proposed Animal Control Ordinance Violate the Illinois Open Meetings Act?
I love that the Illinois Attorney General’s Open Meetings Act website is down:
For some reason, I find that very fitting. When we need transparency in government now more than ever, our government is broken. Well, never mind that. Let’s deal with the matter at hand.
The Illinois Open Meetings Act guide states:
The Illinois Open Meetings Act is designed to prohibit secret deliberations and action on matters which, due to their potential impact on the public, properly should be discussed in a public forum.
Hmm, sounds like the Elgin City Council may have already violated the Open Meetings Act just by not discussing with Elgin citizens who the councilmen have been talking to behind the scenes regarding their proposed Animal Control ordinance (which includes breed-specific legislation). For instance, for the sake of transparency in government, and to avoid “secret deliberations,” maybe Elgin citizens have a right to know if the council has been talking to say Denver Assistant City Attorney Kory Nelson…or PETA…or any other radical animal rights group for that matter.
The intent of the Open Meetings Act clearly states that,
It is the public policy of this State that public bodies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business and that the people have a right to be informed as to the conduct of their business. In order that the people shall be informed, the General Assembly finds and declares that it is the intent of this Act to ensure that the actions of public bodies be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.
And as for the “compromise” that select Elgin city councilmen came up with last week — which, we’re guessing is only a “compromise” to entice the other three hold-out councilmen to acquiesce and vote for breed-specific legislation (BSL) as Councilman Prigge has almost certainly pressured them all to do — which in terms of this legislation is really an amendment, the Open Meetings Act guide states,
It is not appropriate for public bodies to create rules on the spot. Rather, rules should be written and published after appropriate public notice and deliberation.
The above quote is only referring to rules that city councils make that define proper decorum. Well, what about legislation which is of much greater import and public concern? Has Elgin’s amended ordinance been given appropriate deliberation? No, it absolutely has not, and in fact the amendment and perhaps the whole ordinance proposal itself should have been kicked back down to the Committee of the Whole for further deliberation and public comment, particularly as there were still people who were not allowed to speak about the ordinance and since several councilmen themselves had qualms and misgivings about the ordinance! How is Elgin, and more particularly Councilman Prigge, getting away with this strong-arming of Elgin citizens and councilmen and a blatant violation of the intent of the Open Meetings Act???
Think about that. Any city council could pass any measure and then later tack on an amendment (what Congress calls a “rider”). But if debate were forbidden on that amendment, then what couldn’t any councilman surreptitiously and clandestinely pass? For instance, what if the Animal Control ordinance proposal didn’t contain BSL, was passed, and yet BSL was tacked on as an amendment later? Wouldn’t it be in keeping with the Open Meetings Act to have a debate on that amendment and allow the public to address it? So again, amending the Animal Control ordinance proposal and yet forbidding Elgin citizens to speak publicly about the amendment at a Committee of the Whole meeting (i.e. in a public forum), and worse, stymying fellow councilmen from debating the ordinance amendment as a strong-arm tactic is not in keeping with the spirit of the Illinois Open Meetings Act! But the amendment, like so many other aspects of Elgin’s Animal Control ordinance proposal, appears to have been a back-room, shady deal to which Elgin citizens have not been privy from beginning to end.