Cook County

VIDEO: Countless OMA and Civil Rights Violations By Village of Wheeling Board with Klein Thorpe Jenkins Attorney

WHEELING, ILLINOIS (ECWd) —

On Monday September 18th 2017, the Village of Wheeling engaged in something similar to a crime spree when it comes to trashing both the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and the United States Constitution (specifically the First Amendment’s right to petition government bodies for redress of grievances). As recorded on video (and no doubt preserved for a judge and jury to watch for themselves down the line), the Village of Wheeling made the catastrophic choice to listen to the legal advice given during the meeting by attorney James V. Ferolo of the notorious law firm Klein Thorpe Jenkins; this is a firm with a well-earned reputation around the Chicagoland area for giving public bodies the “green light” to aggressively violate the OMA and trample the public’s civil rights.

Observers of Klein Thorpe Jenkins through the years have detected a pattern that repeats itself wherever this firm is hired by a public body. It can’t be just a mere coincidence, since this happens so often and the behavior of Ferolo at the Wheeling Village meeting was so similar to the way that other KTJ attorneys have behaved themselves at previous meetings in Orland Park, Tinley Park, Bellwood, Oak Forest, and other localities around Chicago.

The pattern is this: an attorney from Klein Thorpe Jenkins (be it James V. Ferolo or other KTJ legal eagles such as James Fessler, Dennis Walsh, E-Kenneth Friker, Thomas Melody, etc.) interrupts the public while a citizen is speaking, despite that attorney neither having the floor nor possessing any legal right to take away someone’s public comment time. The elected board members all sit quietly as the KTJ attorney does their dirty work for them to bully and silence the public. The KTJ attorney insists that the board can dictate what a person can or cannot speak about during an open public meeting when that is not only false but is unconstitutional. The KTJ attorney shouts angrily at the public in a menacing way because the net result desired by the public body is for the public to be afraid to speak out about whatever upsetting thing the public body has been doing.

After more than four years of observing Klein Thorpe Jenkins in action and seeing attorneys from this same firm assist public bodies in violating the OMA and the First Amendment in exactly the same ways over and over again, it is hard to see James V. Ferolo’s behavior as nothing but deliberate. Because previous KTJ attorneys such as James Fessler, Dennis Walsh, E-Kenneth Friker, and Thomas Melody all lost (and were humiliated for!) attempts to bully and silence the public during open public meetings, a reasonable person would logically assume that this firm would have held some kind of meeting (or at least sent around an internal memo) telling its attorneys not to violate the OMA any longer. That’s assuming that any of these legal eagles actually didn’t understand the law and thought they could actually behave themselves so terribly in public. When a half dozen of your colleagues are busted for doing something horrible, wouldn’t you hear about it by the water cooler and make a mental note to not do that very thing yourself?

Unless, of course, the whole point of Klein Thorpe Jenkins sending a body to sit in a chair in these meetings is to do exactly this to the public, on purpose. This is the niche that this one offensive law firm appears to occupy in Chicago’s legal community: if a public body wants to take an aggressive stance against the public and discourage public participation and oversight of a public body, then they hire Klein Thorpe Jenkins because this is the firm that is known for sending out guys like James V. Ferolo to harm the public and apparently provide assitance to public bodies to violate the OMA with egregious bullying tactics.

What follows is a quick rundown of some of the myriad ways in which Ferolo and the Wheeling board violated the OMA and the public’s civil rights on 9/18/17 during both the Liquor Commission meeting and the subsequent Village meeting:

(1.) A public body is not allowed to dictate what the public is allowed to speak about at ANY open public meeting. If any public entity is holding an open public meeting, the Open Meetings Act requires that public body provide the public a right to speak.  The OMA allows a public body to eastablish reasonable rules: to limit the amount of speaking time a person has (Wheeling allows 5 minutes per person per meeting); to set a limit for the total amount of time that the public comment portion of the meeting can take (for instance, they could say that public comment may last a maximum of 30 minutes); and the public body is allowed to decide where on its agenda public comment will be held (in the matter at hand, Wheeling front-loads public comment at the very beginning of meetings). That is it.

(2.) The Open Meetings Act guarantees that the public has the right to speak at a public meeting but it is the overarching First Amendment right to petition on any topic that trumps all attempts to restrain or censor speech. Repeatedly during the Liquor Commission meeting, James V. Ferolo angrily shouts and hollers at the two citizens who came to address grievances before the Village of Wheeling board. He tells the public that they can only speak about the Liquor Commission but this is a violation of the public’s First Amendment rights because no public body can tell you what you can or cannot speak about. No public body can decide what is relevant. Elected officials are not allowed to dictate what they want to listen to when it comes to members of the public exercising their First Amendment right to petition. A public body CANNOT censor any topic or decide what narrow things you are allowed to speak about. Any such censorship or restrictions is unconstitutional (and a decent attorney would know that).

(3.) The Village of Wheeling Board has established rules for who has the floor during public comment; in the videos below, watch attorney James V. Ferolo aggressively and repeatedly violate those rules by interrupting people when they are speaking. He was never given the floor or the right to do this. Observers of Klein Thorpe Jenkins should note this is a common practice for their attorneys. When a member of the public is presented their 5 minutes to speak, they have the floor. The Village attorney is not a board member and has no right to interrupt, heckle, bully, harass, or otherwise intimidate or frustrate someone who is trying to petition the Village board on some matter. It appears that Wheeling allows Ferolo to do this because the board doesn’t want to hear from the public. So Ferolo’s role is to illegally shout at people, abridge their First Amendment rights, and be the board’s highly paid bully. Why do the citizens of Wheeling allow their tax dollars to pay Klein Thorpe Jenkins to bully and menace the public in this way?

Categories: Cook County, feature, Wheeling

10 replies »

  1. Everyone should take a look to see how BAD JOURNALISTS operate. Notice that The Journal article — which contained FALSE INFORMATION (aka Fake News) — was changed on 9/22/17 after the CAC finally got ahold of the editor and told them how wrong the article was. The CAC states that (1.) public bodies must allow public comment at all public meetings and (2.) no public body can restrict or censor the content of a person’s comments. This is the exact opposite of what The Journal originally reported in a story that was chock full of lies.

    But notice how The Journal did not leave a note indicating the story had been changed. Responsible and credible reporters always leave a note at the bottom of an article informing the reader of what was changed when a change was made…and apologizing for getting a story wrong initially. No such notification and no such apology appear on The Journal.

    Shame on that reporter and shame on The Journal. Fake News at its most fake.

  2. John that article from “The Journal” is full of lies. I contacted the CAC and asked them about it and they said the reporter who wrote that never contacted them. So the Journal just made things up. The CAC has tried to get them to correct that article as its wrong on several counts, but the Journal has not done so. I do not think The Journal is a reputable publication and it looks like something being done on an amateur effort level.

  3. However there is nothing that prevents the Board Members & Chair from yawning, moving papers, doing other things & obviously ignoring whatever is being presented. Nor The Chair from constanting looking at their watch and when 3 min is up telling you that’s it you’re done. These have been my experiences

  4. There is nothing in the Open Meetings Act that allows a public body to restrict or censor the content of someone’s speech during an open public meeting. Other things that a public body may not do: they cannot stop you from talking for making “personal attacks;” they cannot stop you from talking for using profanity; they cannot stop you from talking for being “repetitious” or “irrelevant.” All of these these are subjective in terms of what is or is not a “personal attack” or profane or repetitious or irrelevant.

    The fact is that public officials must sit and listen to the public, whatever the public has come to say that day. The TV show Parks & Recreation depicted this accurately on their show. During public meetings, the public would come and say whatever the public wanted. The elected officials and public employees had to listen to them all. No matter what someone was there to say. Often, the public came to rail angrily at the public body. They had to sit there and listen. It is five minutes per person for a total of 30 minutes of public comment. They can sit and listen to people for that length of time. They are required to do so.

  5. Regarding (1) & (2) in the post which refers to the first amendment:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    And the interpretation that the first amendment enables one to comment about any topic during any public comment.

    The Attorney General’s FOIA/OMA website does not seem to address that issue.

    However the website does state, “Public bodies are authorized to adopt rules regarding the public comment portion of a meeting.”

    http://foia.ilattorneygeneral.net/pdf/faq_oma_government.pdf

    The result seems to be some government boards in Illinois have rules that allegedly violate the first amendment, intentionally or not.

    • I agree, but the AG and Courts have consistently determined that any rules must “enhance” the public’s ability to address their public officials, not “restrict” their ability. Meaning “time, place, and manor” restrictions designed to enhance the ability to speak – IE: 3 minute or 5 minutes time-limit per person enhances the ability of more speakers to address their public officials. A time-limit of 15 minutes per meeting might restrict their ability if there are consistently more people wanting to speak than time allows. Calling residents before nonresidents is too restrictive and is not a rule that can be used (Vermilion County had to change their policy).

      • So if the public body has in their board policy, “Public Comments on Agenda Items” at the beginning of the agenda template, and, “Public Comments on other than agenda items” near the end of their agenda template, what is the best course of action to allow any comment near the beginning of the meeting?

        Submit a Request for Review with the Public Access Counselor in the AG office?

        It is not fun to sit though an entire meeting just to make a public comment.

        • The OMA only allows them to put a place for public comment on the agenda where they would like to receive public comment and to decide how long a person is given to speak. I don’t know how else to explain this to you Mike because you seem to not want to believe this is true, but the First Amendment provides you the right to say whatever you want whenever there is a public comment slot.

          No public body is allowed to tell you that you can’t speak about any topic you want. I do not know how to say that to you more clearly. You are allowed to say anything you want whenever you are given the floor to speak.

          The public body may only limit the amount of time you are to receive and the maximum amount of time for all speakers total and they can decide where in the meeting the public speaks, but they cannot censor or restrict what you talk about. You can talk about anything you please.

          They are lying to you if they insist otherwise. Catch them on video refusing to let you speak and then go to a civil rights lawyer with the video. Sue them for violations of the OMA for censoring what you wanted to talk about and the public body will lose. They will lose every time because what they are doing is illegal.

          The only thing public bodies understand is lawsuits. They think the PAC is a joke. Until they are sued, they will keep thinking they can break the law and they will keep lying. It takes a lawsuit and the act of going before a judge to try to explain their wrongdoing to sober these people up.

          Violations of the OMA are also class-4 misdemeanors. One day, the state’s attorney might actually enforce that, but technically all the board members presiding over violations of the OMA and allowing them to occur are committing class-4 misdemeanors. They are committing a crime when they are allowing the OMA to be broken.

          • There is a lot of conflicting information about this topic.

            For instance, this from the Citizens Advocacy Center in Elmhurst.document titled, “Journalist’s Guide to the Illinois Open Meetings Act and Free Speech.”

            “However, while the content of speech may not be restricted the government may limit speech to certain issues.

            For example, regardless of a public body allowing for general public comment opportunities at a meeting, they may also allow for public comment restricted to
            certain agenda items.

            In these cases, the government entity is allowed to restrict comment to a particular agenda item, but may not restrict viewpoints expressed in relation to a particular agenda item.”

            http://www.citizenadvocacycenter.org/uploads/8/8/4/0/8840743/journalist_guide_to_the_open_meetings_act_and_first_amendment.pdf.

            So I was hoping to find a Public Access Counselor opinion or court case that specifically addressed the issue (any comment permissible during any public comment period), but have had no luck.

            Also, the public body in question had a FOIA lawsuit go to the Supreme Court.

            It was 2.5 years from the filing date to the Supreme Court opinion.

            Thus I want to have my i’s dotted and t’s crossed for something that I could potentially be dealing with for 2.5 years.

          • After this comment was made, the Journal-Topics updated their article to reflect what the CAC had told them…

            ORIGINAL COMMENT:
            And in this recent article (http://www.journal-topics.com/news/article_8f6dd224-9f01-11e7-b939-9fd3899fa780.html) the CAC is quoted as saying public bodies do not have to allow members of the public to speak – which is either a mis-quote or completely inaccurate. There are some law firms out there claiming there is not a right to speak and that a public body is not required to provide for public comment at every meeting, but those law firms are wrong.

            As far as subject germane/related to the public body in question, who will define what does and does not pertain to somethin on the agenda? For instance, an agenda item of “Public Comment” is very broad and appears to provide for the public to comment on any subject they choose. Or “Finance Report” means anything even remotely related to the use of public funds. Or public comment during Wheeling’s Liquor Commission – when someone talked about an appointment to the Fire and Police Commission, the board said they couldn’t do anything about it and it wasn’t proper to talk about during the Liquor Commission meeting, but the board was wrong, they can do something about it by revoking his liquor license – not that it would actually happen, but that commission could do something about it if they wanted to take that stance.

            So I am back to “who defines what subject or words are related to a particular agenda item?”

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