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April 12, 2024

Chatham Mayor Tom Gray violates Open Meetings Act?

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On August 24, 2016


Chatham Mayor Tom Gray, also President of the Illinois Municipal League, decided he didn’t like a citizen telling him she would fire him if it were up to her.

During the August 23, 2016 village board meeting, a resident told the board that she would personally fire 3 or 4 of them for acting like idiots (concerning the alleged contaminated water issue) – that’s when Gray decided it was a “personal attack” and shut off her comments, calling for the next person.

We believe this to be a violation of the Open Meetings Act (and her First Amendment rights) by restricting the content of her speech because it hurt their feelings and he didn’t like what she said.

In WSDR v. Ogle County, the Court referenced an Illinois Attorney General Opinion which said in part:

“…public officials are subject to criticism for action they take. . . and anyone who undertakes a public office should be aware that his actions will be subject to criticism. Anyone who is unwilling to subject himself to such criticism by the public should not accept public office or membership of a public board…”

Maybe it is time for Mayor Gray to resign if he can’t take the heat.

Watch the exchange below:

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  • Jeff Greer
    Posted at 21:51h, 24 August

    He cut off no less than 4 citizens last night and did NOT provide them their 5 minutes of public comments time. Trying to rush it along several times and skip people waiting to talk. Ignored citizen face-to-face follow-up meeting request to discuss water issue after numerous non-responses to email requests.

  • Arthur Andersen
    Posted at 22:38h, 24 August

    Please go to the Open Meetings Act and cite the provision(s) you believe were allegedly violated by the Mayor and/or Village Board. I’m not being disputatious, just genuinely curious. I’ve served on several local and a couple State boards, and policies were (formal or informal) that public comments were to be limited to the subject matter of the meeting and that personal attacks were expressly prohibited.

    • jmkraft
      Posted at 22:46h, 24 August

      Sec. 2.06. Minutes; right to speak.
      Yes, a public body can have rules, but it has been held by the AG and the courts that the rules must be reasonable. Citizens do not lose their right to content based speech simply because it is during public comment portion of a public meeting. Lots of public bodies have policies prohibiting certain things, many do not comply with the reasonable rule. Some public bodies say you cannot mention board members by name, or cannot talk bad about employees – both being wrong. I understand it is not clear in the OMA, however, content based speech restrictions do not serve a public purpose.

      • yinn
        Posted at 06:47h, 25 August

        It’s not “clear” in the OMA because a lot of this has been worked out in case law. Also, state law cannot supersede federal law, and speech is federally protected. So is due process. Both apply.

        Public bodies may make reasonable restrictions as to time, place, and manner of commenting, but may not create content restrictions except for what First Amendment case law has worked out (obscenity, fighting words). Also, public bodies may not give one person five minutes to speak, and then give the next person only two minutes.

        It is true that many public bodies do not follow the law in this area, and I believe they do not realize they are not only flouting the OMA with this type of abuse of power, but perhaps also creating federal cases at times.

    • Kirk Allen
      Posted at 08:13h, 25 August

      I will go one better. Go to the 1st amendment and read it. Our rights to petition our government shall not be restricted. When we want to call our elected officials an idiot during a meeting with information to support it, that is our Constitutional Right, OMA be damned!

      • jmkraft
        Posted at 08:23h, 25 August

        She never said they “were” idiots, she said they “acted like” idiots…

  • Warren J. Le Fever
    Posted at 11:41h, 25 August

    I have been following these articles on Chatham, IL Mayor Tom Gray because he is President of the Illinois Municipal League (IML) and should set an example for other Mayors in the State of Illinois. The interest of the Watchdogs is a heavy negative. If he can’t act right, how do you expect other Mayors in this state to act let alone all the other municipal officials? I went to the IML workshop for newly elected officials after I was re-elected(refresher) and was given their published guide for municipal meetings.
    Quoting from this publication, “In the White case,…..The fundamental purpose of a council meeting is that it is a government process with a government purpose…..According to the court, ” Public forum or not, the usual First amendment antipathy to control oriented control of speech cannot be imported into the council chambers intact.”…..This is not to say….the council has carte blanche authority to restrict all expression during a council meeting. there are limitations. The first limitation is that the restriction on expression must be viewpoint-neutral. While the moderator may restrict the content of expression because of irrelevancies or repetitions, the moderator may not restrict the contents of expression simply because he or she disagrees with it or because it uses words that he or she does not like.”
    Compared with what I’ve seen at many meetings going back to the 1970’s, what the woman silenced by Mayor Gray said amounted to nothing worth a comment. Use of the words “Idiots” and “fire” is more common than you think and laughable. Mayor Gray is the problem, not the speaker. He is using his control as a WEAPON against the speaker. It’s not uncommon to find public officials with overinflated egos and/or having wrongdoing problems using meeting control to suppress and humiliate citizens and lower ranking officials. Nothing will be accomplished at the council meeting by citizens with a grievance. Citizens have to deal with those types outside the meetings through the ballot box or litigation, further investigation, etc.