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Read the PAC Determination Letter
CAC offers to assist Plainfield Township Park District Board improve transparency and accountability
Maryam Judar, CAC Executive Director offer the following public comment at last night's meeting:
Good evening Plainfield Township Park District Board Members. My name is Maryam Judar and I am the Executive Director and a community lawyer at Citizen Advocacy Center. CAC is a non-profit, non-partisan, community-based legal organization with a mission to build democracy in the 21st century. Among the many projects CAC is involved with, our community lawyers assist people in Illinois with navigating the local government decision making system so that they may affect policy decisions on issues that matter to them most. We also work with government bodies to develop policies and procedures that increase government accountability, transparency, and accessibility to the people they serve.
I am before you today to address the characterization of members of your community on the Plainfield Township Park District government website. Currently, a November 4, 2013 entry is posted referencing Requests for Reviews to the Public Access Counselor's office filed by members of the community. The description of the community members on the website who filed the reviews is a “small group of radicals” who use the PAC review process to “possibly harass the Plainfield Park District Board for its decisions.”
The entry goes on to state that “[i]t is our opinion at the Park District that these complaints were frivolous and a financial distraction from our mission.”
With respect to the public use of going to the PAC, it is important to understand that the PAC serves as an ombudsman between government and its citizens on open government matters. The Public Access Counselor’s office is dedicated to vetting FOIA and OMA issues when the answers are not obvious. Both government entities AND members of the public contact the PAC for answers about FOIA and OMA questions.
The Plainfield Township Park District website characterized the citizens’ use of going to the PAC as “frivolous” and
“potential harassment.” Such characterization of concerned citizens using a legal process to clarify questions about government functioning, especially when the FOIA and OMA legal analyses start with a presumption of disclosure and openness unless there is a valid exemption, is a misunderstanding of the purpose of the PAC and that the
Park District’s response to such inquiries is part of the cost of public business, as well as a misunderstanding of the role of a citizen in a democracy.
With respect to how concerned citizens are characterized on the website, using negative connotations appears to be intended to serve as a chilling effect on members of the public who disagree with government decisions
and how those opinions are expressed. Is it a policy of this Board to belittle the public so as to discourage public participation, the questioning of how government functions, and the use of a resource that is specifically in place to
answer questions of public concern? How does this meet the mission of the Park District?
If you do agree that it is not the policy of the Board to belittle public engagement, we request that such offensive language be removed from the website immediately so that the ostensible values of the public body with respect to citizen engagement – regardless of whether you agree with the viewpoints expressed – is reflected on the website.
If you do not agree, and find that such characterizations on the Park District website adequately reflect the values of the Park Board with respect to citizen engagement, may I suggest that the Citizen Advocacy Center might be of assistance to you in rethinking how to approach citizen participation. CAC has worked with public bodies to help them achieve a higher level of government transparency and accountability, and most recently with Wheaton Park District – at their request. We would be willing to help the Plainfield Township Park District assess their processes and procedures for engaging the public and in streamlining how it provides information to the public so as to lessen its cost relative to FOIA – free of charge to the park district.
Clearly there is a disconnect in how the Board is relating to the public it serves. I suggest that this disconnect does not originate with concerned citizens, but rather it originates in the dysfunctional manner in how the Board interacts with concerned citizens that is causing - as it states on the Park District’s website - “the financial expense to the taxpayers that could have been spent expanding programs for children, veterans, and seniors here in our community.”
For more about the November 13th meeting, check out the following articles:
Plainfield Patch: Peck Calls Citizens ‘Radicals;’ Resident Ejected from Park Board Meeting
The Herald News/Chicago Sun Times: Resident booted from Plainfield meeting
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
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.
State office rules it can't review D-46 minutes
|1-17-13 ChicagoTribune.com Prairie State College plagued by accusations of nepotism, secret ballot|
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