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Pecatonica Township’s history in limiting free speech at meetings –

Pecatonica Township (ECWd) –

This article will place Pecatonica Township’s Public Comment Policy on a timeline to better understand steps taken to limit free speech at public meetings, and to lay out the factual case that banishment from meetings is not, and never has been, a prescribed penalty under the Township’s written and adopted policy, or in state law.

The bottom line here, is that a Township was never given the power to ban anyone from public meetings. And they never placed banishment as a penalty in their Ordinance (which would be an invalid Ordinance anyway).

  • May 16, 2017
    • At this meeting, a speaker was limited to 2 minutes of public comment, even though the township’s rule was 5 minutes
    • Supervisor Musso apparently lied to the AG by claiming the 2-minute rule was placed to conserve time and that all others who addressed the board were given the same 2 minutes instead of the regular 5 minutes. Hamilton was the only one who spoke, which proves Musso lied to the AG
  • June 20, 2017
    • At this meeting, a speaker was permitted to speak until she inferred misconduct by Supervisor Musso, who then ruled her out of order and prohibited her from continuing to speak
    • The Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor determined Pecatonica Township violated the Open Meetings Act by improperly limiting public comment
  • September 17, 2017 Public Comment Ordinance
    • 15 minute sign up in advance
    • 3 minute speaking time per speaker
    • Penalty: If ruled out of order, the speaker shall be required to leave the meeting for its duration
    • Three “yes” votes were recorded
  • December 19, 2017
    • At this meeting, a speaker attempted to sign up 11 minutes prior to the meeting and was prohibited from commenting
    • The Attorney General determined that the 15 minutes in advance of a meeting sign up rule violated the Open Meetings Act by unreasonably restricting public comment
  • March 20, 2018, Public Comment Ordinance Amendment
    • 15 minute sign up in advance of the meeting is required
    • Did not change the penalty for violations paragraph
    • Three “yes” votes were recorded
  • June 19, 2018, Second Amendment to the Public Comment Ordinance
    • This Amendment only added paragraphs 6 – 10 to the original ordinance
    • These paragraphs pertain to the recording of meetings and where to place the cameras
    • The penalty for violating the regulation of non-member address to the Pecatonica Township Board “is the statutory penalty for the violation for any township or municipal ordinance
    • Three “yes” votes were recorded
    • When asked, the Township was unable to provide any written statutory penalties that might apply to this amendment
  • January 22, 2019
    • At this meeting, a speaker signed up for public comment 13 minutes in advance of the meeting – the township’s rule was to sign up no later than 15 minutes prior to a meeting.
    • The speaker she was waiting behind the Road Commissioner to sign the sheet, and there was not a writing instrument available. By the time she retrieved her writing instrument, it was 13 minutes prior to the meeting
    • The AG determined that the 15 minute-prior-to-a-meeting sign up rule unreasonably restricts public comment and that Pecatonica Township violated the Open Meetings Act when it prohibited the speaker from speaking at this meeting
  • July 16, 2019
    • At this meeting, a speaker failed to sign up 15 minutes in advance of the meeting (even though the AG had already twice determined that rule violates the OMA) and that she tried to address the board after she failed to sign up 15 minutes in advance
    • the Attorney General has not issued a determination on this meeting yet
  • August 20, 2019
    • At this meeting, the Township passed a Resolution banning Hamilton from the next three meetings for the following reasons:
      • Violating the 15-minute sign up rule – a rule which had already been struck down twice by the Attorney General’s office
      • talking past the 3-minute time limit for each commenter
      • she allegedly made personal attacks when speaking
    • The Official Resolution did not have the required votes to pass – it only reflects two “yes” votes, when the requirement is three “yes” votes
  • October 15, 2019
    • Knowing she was not properly served the Resolution banning her from meetings, and knowing that all Township Public Comment Ordinances passed in its history did not prescribe a penalty of banishment from future meetings, Hamilton attended this meeting
    • Supervisor Musso had Hamilton arrested and charged with criminal trespass to a public building
    • The Township then passed another public comment Ordinance amendment requiring a 15 minute in person in advance sign up  – they did this because Hamilton emailed her advance sign up for four consecutive meetings, and in an effort to further restrict her ability to speak, they changed the rules again – even though the AG had previously ruled twice that the 15-minute rule violated the OMA. This board essentially said “Damn the Attorney General, we will do what we want
  • November 2019
    • At this meeting, Pecatonica Township voted to extend the banning of Hamilton by an additional 6 months and 10 days, they also included all township property, to include meetings

Pecatonica Township has never approved any Ordinance violation penalties of banishment from future meetings. Even if they did, they do not possess that power.

The Township Code does not prescribe penalties for violation of a township public comment ordinance, and none of the penalties prescribed in the Township Code include banning people from meeting or township property. The Township Code does not grant a Township Board of Trustees the authority to ban anyone from a public meeting – and neither does any other state law.

A Township does not possess the power to use the Municipal Code to banish people from meetings, and nothing in the Municipal Code permits banning a person from meetings.

More articles on this subject forthcoming.

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3 replies »

  1. Time for the Attorney General to soundly thrash the Supervisor and board members with a foam pool noodle to encourage (wink, wink) them again to comply with laws and regulations. An alternative would be to have someone from the Attorney General office attend and sign up to speak 14 minutes and 30 seconds prior, witness the reaction and then whip out their “respect mah authoritah” ala Cartman from South Park (see youtube).

  2. What? American citizens are no longer allowed to speak openly in public meetings because township management might be portrayed in a bad light? The deliberate, hateful and wrongful use of their office to suppress constitutional rights will ultimately; bite them where they sit. These township officials are so wrong.
    What can we expect the AG to do at this point?

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