New rule to attend CPS meetings draws complaints
By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah Tribune reporter 8:11 p.m. CDT, August 28, 2013
A new requirement that participants sign up online to attend the monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting drew complaints Wednesday and claims the district is violating the Open Meetings Act.
Ronald Jackson, a regular at CPS board meetings, said he had signed up before the meeting but was turned away by security guards who couldn’t find his name on a list. Jackson asked to see the district’s legal department. Eventually, he was allowed into the meeting.
Jackson said many others who tried to attend the meeting Wednesday where CPS was voting on its budget for fiscal year 2014 ended up leaving after being denied entry.
“I shouldn’t have to be harassed,” Jackson said. “District policy doesn’t override state and federal laws.”
Maryam Judar, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst, said government agencies can ask for people to sign up to speak at public meetings, or even require people to sign up to get a count on attendance. But they cannot deny someone entry into a public meeting because they have not signed up beforehand.
“The purpose of the Open Meetings Act is that deliberations take place in public, and the public may attend the meeting as an observer, Judar said. “It would be in contravention of the Open Meetings Act to limit that availability to a select few. They shouldn’t be turning people away for lack of signing up.”
The district’s guidelines stated people who wanted to speak or even observe board meetings “must register in advance of the day of the meeting.”
CPS officials said later Wednesday they will be amending their guidelines to make it clear that the public is not required to sign up in advance in order to attend the board meeting.
“Our goal is to ensure the safety and accommodate the needs of all attending our monthly Board of Education meetings,” said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll. “That is why we are requesting, but not requiring, that members of the public planning to attend these meetings to register in advance so we can best prepare to accommodate all visitors on those days. Any member of the public who wishes to attend the Board meeting can do so without registering in advance given that there is adequate space in Board chambers and its overflow room."
Read the article at the chicagotribune.com here
On Tuesday August 27th, Maryam Judar gave public comment regarding the revision of the ethics law at both the DuPage County Finance Committee Meeting and the full County Board meeting. The revision passed. Commissioner Liz Chaplin was the single vote against the change. The article appearing in the Daily Herald on August 28th is below:
DuPage County Board loosens cap on campaign contributions
By Robert Sanchez
The DuPage County Board has repealed its self-imposed cap on campaign contributions after the state's attorney's office told members the restrictions can't be enforced.
Instead, DuPage now will mirror state law when it comes to limiting the amount of campaign money county board members and the board chairman can accept from donors doing or seeking county government work. The state cap is less restrictive than the previous limit in DuPage's ethics law.
Advertisement "I like the lower limits personally," county board member Robert Larsen said. "But our state's attorney's office — our lawyers — are telling us it is unenforceable."
Before DuPage's ethics law was revised on Tuesday night, it capped campaign donations from companies and consulting firms, as well as officers and owners of those entities, to $1,000 a year. That limit also applied to any individual appointed or applying for appointment to serve on a board, commission, authority, task force or advisory committee.
Now those same entities and individuals can donate up to $5,300 to county board members and the board chairman during each election cycle. An election cycle can be two or four years.
Government watchdog groups urged the county board to keep the local limit, which DuPage adopted in 2010.
"This revision of the ethics ordinance goes in the wrong direction," said Maryam Judar, executive director of the Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center.
But First Assistant State's Attorney Nancy Wolfe advised county board members that they must follow state law when it comes to campaign contribution restrictions because DuPage isn't home rule.
"The state has set the limits (and) has not given a non-home rule entity authority to enact anything more restrictive or less restrictive," Wolfe said.
The reason DuPage was able to set its cap in 2010 was because the state-imposed limits hadn't yet taken effect. Now that the state law is in place, Wolfe said, "we are bound to follow that."
"A non-home rule county doesn't have authority to act unless it's specifically given," Wolfe said. "No authority (to limit campaign contributions) has been given to us by the state legislature or the Illinois Constitution or the common law."
Judar said she disagrees with that legal opinion. "I don't think it is clear that DuPage County as a non-home rule entity cannot exercise more restrictive ethics," she said.
In addition, officials with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform have said DuPage could, through its procurement system, require vendors to promise not to give more than a set amount to candidates for offices that might have a role in the issuance of their contracts.
Attempts to delay Tuesday night's vote on the ethics law revisions failed. Some board members sought the delay to give watchdog groups a chance to respond to the opinion from the state's attorney's office.
"We're forcing this through," said Elizabeth Chaplin, the only county board member to vote against the revisions. "We're wasting our time on increasing political campaign donations."
August 25, 2013
Honorable Steve Morley
Honorable City Council Members
Delivered via Email
RE: Citizen Advocacy Center Commentary on Addison Street Project Development
Dear Mayor and Aldermen:
Thank you for convening a Committee of the Whole discussion on the Redevelopment of 135-149 N. Addison (Addison LLC Redevelopment). The Citizen Advocacy Center has monitored the Addison LLC Redevelopment project since inception in 2009 and has provided extensive commentary.
It is my understanding that Alderman Gutenkauf and now-Alderman Deuter were the only public officials to attend any portion of the Zoning and Planning Commission (Commission) Public Hearings on Addison Street and therefore are the only public officials who saw first-hand the significant number of concerned citizens and business owners who attended and spoke out against the project as proposed and considered before the Commission. Indeed, by way of reference for those Aldermen who have been on the Council for less than a decade, this hearing was one of the most widely attended since the Block 300 Development.
While the Citizen Advocacy Center has a multitude of issues with the Addison Street project, we find it particularly significant that the Commission, considering only the land use components of the application as they are required to do, unanimously rejected the proposed six-story development. In doing so, they issued a comprehensive set of findings and commentary. I encourage the Mayor and all Aldermen to take the time to read or re-read the report personally, rather than rely on a staff summary. The reason is because the report is multi-tiered and multi-faceted. The Commission summarily rejected the application’s compliance with all mandatory criteria, and in addition, generally commented on the extensive need for holistic planning of the Addison Street Corridor prior to any development being proposed.
The reason for this suggestion is painfully obvious but warrants highlighting: piecemeal development is counterproductive to maximization of use. Additional concerns identified in the Commission report and during the deliberation were:
The Citizen Advocacy Center agrees with the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce and the Elmhurst Economic Development Commission that redevelopment of the Addison Street parcel is important to tax based development. However, the question of what should be built on this parcel of property remains to be answered in a suitable public process. It is unknown, despite asking, to what extent comprehensive planning has been considered for the Addison Street Corridor, who participated, and how the contract to build on the site in question furthered that planning.
Prior to moving forward with further consideration of this particular project, we ask that the City engage in a subarea comprehensive planning process that 1) discloses any previous planning for Addison Street Corridor and 2) seeks authentic public input. Although the City may be in a difficult position because of the contract already entered into for a four-story parking deck project which can be built without the need for a specific zoning process, taking a pause for subarea planning would address the holistic planning failure identified by the Commission.
The City of Elmhurst is fortunate that numerous business owners and citizens have expressed concerns about what happens on this parcel of property. Planning, done properly, provides an opportunity to bring together diverse viewpoints to work collaboratively. In referencing diverse viewpoints, I mean more than those of the City’s business development institutions. The Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce, City Centre, and the Elmhurst Economic Development Commission each serve their own purpose, which is far broader than land use development for a specific subarea of downtown. Bringing together these institutions (some of which have recently submitted general resolutions in support of proceeding promptly with a redevelopment project but none of which provided testimony at the public hearing) along with the several specific business owners (acting on their own behalf), residents, and other members of the public who testified at the Commission hearing, would be a valuable endeavor yielding a result that all members of the community could buy into.
To help facilitate the process, the Citizen Advocacy Center offers to assist City Staff in developing a meaningful public process that involves the institutions referenced above as well as business owners and residents who attended the public hearing, and others. If the City concludes that the Citizen Advocacy Center’s offer is undesirable, I would suggest that City Council direct the City Manager to contact Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, Davenport Institute. It is a program specifically designed to inform municipal government entities in how to engage the public in policy development, far beyond public comment opportunities. While most of their hands-on work and grant making is restricted to California public bodies, I am confident that their Executive Director, Pete Peterson, can provide guidelines for facilitation.
Thank you for your consideration.
Ms. Terry Pastika
Citizen Advocacy Center
Also posted on the Elmhurst Patch at: http://elmhurst.patch.com/groups/opinions/p/cac-asks-elmhurst-mayor-aldermen-to-take-a-very-close-look-at-addison
The League of Women Voters of the LaGrange Area is honoring CAC with a Persons of Impact Award. This award recognizes CAC for encouraging active citizen participation and for working diligently to influence
public policy through education and advocacy to protect the rights of all citizens.
I am proud to accept this award on behalf of the Citizen Advocacy Center. This award belongs to all the people who make up the community we call Citizen Advocacy Center: those who don the hat of active participant or government monitor and seek our assistance, and those who give generously - whether of time,talent, or financial support. Complete details about the event and registration link are below.
About the 2013 Persons of Impact Award
The League of Women Voters of the LaGrange Area is proud to honor two individuals and one non-profit organization who keep alive the legacy of the LWV for Power, Influence and Change in our communities.
Each award recipient has encouraged active citizen participation in representative government and continues to work diligently to influence public policy through education and advocacy to protect the rights of all citizens.
Date: Thursday Sept 12th
Time: 5:30pm - 8:00 pm
Mayslake Peabody Estate
1717 W. 31st St.
Oak Brook, IL 60532
Individual Reservations by August 30th:
$40 per person
* This blog entry is written by a non-lawyer and is not intended to be legal advice. Anyone with specific questions about this topic and whether or not it applies to them, should consult a practicing attorney. *
Public participation is key to democratic governance and ensuring that the public’s concerns are met when government officials are making decisions. However, in Illinois and across the United States, certain forms of public participation vis-a-vis corporations, government officials, and public bodies have been targeted when members of the public advocate for government action that is in opposition to the interests of a corporation or the desires of a government entity. When individuals attend government meetings and engage in lawfully protected First Amendment activities, and subsequently are sued by corporations or government bodies under some pretext for the purpose of chilling the individuals’ speech, these lawsuits are called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP).
SLAPP suits have been used in Illinois on a number of occasions. Here are some examples:
- Horizon Group Management, LLC v. Bonnen (2009): This case involves a tweet that the former tenant of a Chicago apartment complex sent to her twenty Twitter followers regarding mold in her former apartment building. As a result of the tweet, which alleged that Horizon kept keeps its apartments in poor condition, Horizon sued the former tenant for defamation and $50,000 in damages. This case is pending. One of the issues is whether the former tenant’s tweet is protected First Amendment speech.
- Scheidler v. Trombley (2007): In this case, the Pro Life Action League, which is a pro-life advocacy group in Illinois, sued Illinois Planned Parenthood for defamation. The suit revolved around statements that Illinois Planned Parenthood’s CEO Steve Trombley made in letters to city and county officials as well as a local newspaper. Specifically, Trombley wrote that pro-life groups have a “well documented history of advocating violence.” Trombley was sued by the Pro Life Action League and others for defamation, but the court threw out most of the claims in the suit against Trombley by application of Illinois’ then newly enacted Citizen Participation Act (described more fully, below).
- Oliver Hoffman v. The Village of Wayne, The Dupage County Forest Preserve, and The Wayne Community Association (1995): This is a lawsuit in which the Citizen Advocacy Center’s community lawyers defended the rights of a community group. The lawsuit was filed in DuPage County by developer Oliver-Hoffmann against individuals involved in The Wayne Community Association. Specifically, the developer took issue with The Association’s petition to the Forest Preserve to preserve the open space on which Oliver-Hoffmann was seeking to build and for making statements to the press seeking the condemnation of the developer’s 203 acres of land in the middle of the community of Wayne. In this prime example of a SLAPP suit, Oliver-Hoffmann brought the suit against the defendants for what they called “civic conspiracy” and “tortious interference with business expectancy.” Oliver-Hoffmann sought $110 million from each defendant. However, the judge dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice against Oliver-Hoffman.
- Westfield Partners, Ltd. v. Hogan, 744 F. Supp. 189 (1990): This case is one of the more explicit SLAPP cases involving a development group called Westfield Partners and a group of residents of Wayne Township. Residents successfully blocked the development group’s use of a road by filing a petition with the township. The development group then filed a suit against the homeowners. In the suit, the development group claimed that the homeowners involved had committed conspiracy to deprive of due process, interference with prospective economic advantage, and slander. The development group sought $4 million in damages. The court ruled against the developer saying that the, “entire complaint against the defendants [was] based upon nothing more than defendants’ exercise of their right, under the [F]irst [A]mendment, to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The recent increase in these lawsuits led to the establishment of anti-SLAPP laws in Illinois and 25 other states. Specifically, the anti-SLAPP law in Illinois is the Citizen Participation Act, which lays out how one would protect themselves from a SLAPP suit. The Citizen Participation Act allows defendants of SLAPP suits to use the act as a defense against a SLAPP suit. With that, the Citizen Participation Act recognizes that “[t]he threat of SLAPPs significantly chills and diminishes citizen participation in government, voluntary public service, and the exercise of these important constitutional rights.” 735 ILCS 110/5. The Citizen Participation Act protects those who believe they are being sued on the basis of “any act or acts in furtherance of [your] rights of petition, speech, association, or to otherwise participate in government.” Another important criteria for the Citizen Participation Act, is that the speech or petition is “genuinely aimed at procuring favorable government action, result, or outcome. In addition to protecting the above mentioned rights, anti-SLAPP laws also benefit the defendant in the trial process. The Citizen Protection Act in Illinois does this in the following ways:
- When the motion on an anti-SLAPP suit is pending, plaintiff generally cannot engage in discovery which means they cannot ask the defendant to produce documents, sit for a deposition, or answer formally written questions.
- The Citizen Participation Act also allows those who have filed a motion for an anti-SLAPP suit to get a speedy decision on the defendant’s motion to dismiss and to file an expedited appeal if the court denies the motion.
And if the court happens to grant the motion to dismiss the case:
- The court will dismiss the case in favor of the party who is claiming a First Amendment violation;
- The individual is entitled to recover attorney fees and court costs associated with the case; and
- The individual may be able to bring a claim for malicious prosecution against the plaintiff who brought the SLAPP suit.
In the case of Illinois, the Anti-SLAPP law is fairly new, considering the Citizen Participation Act only just passed in 2007. That being said, several cases interpret the recent legislation broadly. These cases have set important precedents for utilization of the Citizen Participation Act.
In another case, Wright Development Group v. Walsh (2010), the Illinois Supreme Court determined that not only do individuals have grounds for using the Citizen Participation Act to protect their First Amendment rights, but also that individuals’ comments are protected when speaking to the press regarding the issue at hand, because speaking to the media is in furtherance of achieving a favorable government action. In this case, in addition to an individual being sued for speaking out against a company, two newspapers (the Chicago Sun-Times and the Pioneer Press) were sued as well.
In Sandholm v. Kuecker (2012), the plaintiff sued the defendants for defamation. When the defendant invoked the First Amendment and asked for dismissal pursuant to the Citizen Participation Act, the court denied the motion because “[i]f a plaintiff’s complaint genuinely seeks redress for damages from defamation or other intentional torts and, thus, does not constitute a SLAPP, it is irrelevant whether the defendants’ actions were ‘genuinely aimed at procuring favorable government action, result, or outcome.’” Thus, the court distinguished the application of the Citizen Participation Act from true cases of defamation.
For members of the public who engage in protected political activity, anti-SLAPP legislation is a crucial tool. While it can not prevent someone from being sued in the first place, it does provide a critical legal defense. Illinois courts have interpreted the Citizen Participation Act’s language broadly. Although the history of its use is short, in the future the Citizen Participation Act and other states’ anti-SLAPP laws should prove to be valuable for holding accountable those who attempt to trample on the constitutional rights of citizens, as well as encouraging more participation by the public in general.
2013 College Summer Intern
**This blog post was written by a non-legal intern and should not serve as legal advice. If one is seeking legal advice they should consult a practicing attorney**
John Dryden, a Social Studies teacher at Batavia High School, has found himself on thin ice after teaching his students their Constitutional rights against self-incrimination.
Batavia High School asked teachers to circulate a survey to students with questions about drug and alcohol use. After noticing his students’ names were printed on a survey Dryden instructed his students that the Fifth Amendment gave them rights to refuse to fill it out. Word started to circulate around the school that Dryden informed students of their option not to fill out the survey. Students rallied around Dryden’s actions and the media reported on the event. For Dryden, the school board deemed his conduct “unprofessional” and he was issued a one day suspension without pay with a “notice to remedy” letter on his file.
Dryden argued that the student drug and alcohol survey put the students in danger of self-incrimination. He said it was “dumb luck” that he even noticed the names of the students printed on the surveys a mere ten minutes before class started. “I made a judgment call. There was no time to ask anyone,” as reported in the Daily Herald. When asked about what he would do if the situation arose again, Dryden said he would make the same decision.
The board claimed the survey was solely to test students’ social and emotional health and that it was meant to be a “screener” so that students who may pose a risk to themselves or others could get help from social workers or other available assistance. The board claimed that the survey would stay in a “temporary file” and would not be used to incriminate students.
According to news reports, the school provided a memo for the teachers, but the memo did not address whether the survey was mandatory and the teachers also received advance notice that such surveys would be given out, however, the memo never disclosed that students’ names would be on them. This was the first year that the school district chose to have surveys with names.
The school board also sent out an email to parents stating that students did not have to take the survey as long as they notified the district at a predetermined deadline. However, the email was not sent directly to students, so the only time they could refuse to take the survey was the time it was handed out.
Considering all the issues playing out in the current NSA government spying regarding aggregate data, the school board should have acted professionally rather than accusing Dryden, especially after all the debate about temporary files, stored files, permission to keep files on individuals. Instead of being taught about the opportunities for assistance the school has to offer, the school seemed to feel they could just target students and force them to use these programs. High school students have the responsibilities and access of adults and yet in instances like this are treated as children. It’s ironic that high school students read 1984 as a part of their school curriculum but are prevented from making privacy-related judgment calls for themselves.
Another issue is that the school assumed that students would tell the truth with their names plastered on the survey. I do not believe that any high school student would be dumb enough to willingly admit to involvement in any illicit activities.
In my opinion as a student, it seems that our rights are minimal at school. Only sending the email to parents notifying them of the survey not only cuts out all those parents who don’t use email, it incorrectly implies that guardians of citizens under the age of 18 can make decisions about Fifth Amendment rights.
Dryden took the extra step. He taught the students how to apply their rights to a situation first-hand, a lesson they would remember, instead of making them read a dry textbook to memorize facts that would be soon forgotten. Not many teachers are willing to take the risk to protect their students. What does it say that the ones that do get punished for their bravery.
I applaud Dryden for what he did because, honestly, it’s not easy to find an adult who takes high school students seriously. It’s surprising to find a teacher who believes that our privacy is also worth a fight, and the fact that Dryden is still fighting for our rights, even with the threats to his career, is honorable.
2013 High School Summer Intern
**This blog post was written by a non-legal intern and should not serve as legal advice. If one is seeking legal advice they should consult a practicing attorney**
Out of State, Out of Mind
Recently, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that non-residents of Virginia are not allowed to take advantage of the commonwealth’s Freedom of Information Act. The decision states that it is not unconstitutional for Virginia to restrict access to government documents to non-residents.
The case started when McBurney and Hurlbert, along with media and data companies, challenged Virginia’s FOIA law under the U.S. Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause which prohibits states from discriminating against citizens out of the state. Hulbert, owner of a real estate company, argued the law restricted him from giving proper information about public real estate assessments to his clients. McBurney, a former Virginian, could not get access to welfare papers for child support that he needed when divorcing his wife.
These two men argued that it is unconstitutional to withhold access to public records especially considering the growing commerce potential. But the Supreme Court disagreed. "We hold, however, that petitioners' constitutional rights were not violated," Justice Samuel Alito said for the court. "By means other than the state FOIA, Virginia made available to petitioners most of the information they sought, and the Commonwealth's refusal to furnish the additional information did not abridge any constitutionally protected privilege or immunity. Nor did Virginia violate the dormant Commerce Clause."
The ruling especially causes problems for all data miners who no longer directly get information from Virginia. This can include all type of American citizens including business owners who need information about other out-of-state businesses, media outlets, citizens in need of police records, and even just a curious citizen looking for answers.
The ruling has proven to be troubling on many levels. First off, the Supreme Court stated that there was no discrimination with regard to the Privileges and Immunities Clause. They quoted, “[W]e reject petitioners' sweeping claim that the challenged provision of the Virginia FOIA violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause because it denies them the right to access public information on equal terms with citizens of the Commonwealth. We cannot agree that the Privileges and Immunities Clause covers this broad right.”
The Supreme Court has read the Privileges and Immunities Clause in a very narrow manner. In the past the Supreme Court has ruled the Clause as a way to “keep the citizens of each state on equal footing with citizens of other states” (Paul v. Virginia (1869)). Why does it now make sense to limit information when the Clause was in the Constitution for all U.S. citizens?
After the ruling, the fear is other states may follow in lead in this lack of transparency. Of the 48 states that have FOIA laws, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, New Hampshire and New Jersey already have laws restricting some access, and it won’t take long before other states begin wanting to also adopt the policy.
Next, the Supreme Court has underestimated the importance of having access to out-of-state records. The ruling means that journalists or “watchdogs” from other states involved in investigative reporting can no longer access information in cases of alleged misconduct or corruption. And who really wants to go to an online blogger asking if they can get information for you from their state because you can’t get it yourself? The Freedom of Information Laws were adopted to make sure the government stays a transparent entity; thus, all affected by the government should have the right to access its information.
Finally, I do not agree the Supreme Court has justification to limit information for citizens out-of-state. I mean, who is this really helping anyways? People out-of-state can still ask someone in-state to get the information for them while the government will slowly seem less accountable due to lack of transparency. Overall, I think the Supreme Court should have upheld the principles of government transparency and ruled against withholding government information.
2013 High School Summer Intern
Chemerinsky, Erwin. "Chemerinsky: Court Unanimously Wrong on Virginia’s Public Records
Law." Chemerinsky: Court Unanimously Wrong on Virginia's Public Records Law. ABA Journal, 5 June 2013. Web. 17 July 2013.
Holland, Jesse J. "Supreme Court: State Can Block Out Of State Use Of FOIA." Western Journalism. Western Journalism, 29 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 July 2013.
"Virginia Can Block out of State Use of FOIA, Supreme Court Rules." WJLA. WJLA, 29 Apr. 2013.
Web. 17 July 2013.
CAC is proud to partner with Medill Watchdog. Both organizations value training the next generation of community lawyers and investigative reporters and the collaborative process.
At CAC, we help concerned citizens address local public policy issues. Often times, the issues brought to our office by concerned citizens are cutting edge issues that have a regional or statewide impact. Part of our mission is making our government institutions more accountable, transparency, and accessible, combined with strengthening citizens' knowledge base, skills, and confidence to participate in the democratic process.
CAC's collaboration with Medill Watchdog provides an opportunity for student investigative journalists to make FOIA requests, interview members of the community on their issue, interview public officials, and more.