County Board Blinks on Flashes

The new chairman of the McHenry County Democratic Party and at least two serious candidates for county board in 2006 showed up at the McHenry County Board meeting Tuesday night.

Thomas Cynor spoke in the public comment period without identifying his title.

Maybe others knew who he was, but I didn’t.

I could tell he was a lawyer by the way he talked when he asked that three items in the proposed rules changes being presented by Management Services Committee Chairman Tina Hill be taken off the consent agenda.

With both daily newspapers on their backs for proposed limitations on Freedom of Speech, how do you figure forcing cameramen to the back of the room and prohibiting flash photography got on the consent calendar?

Besides the restrictions on taking pictures, Cynor complained about the three minute limit on public participation and the 30 minute maximum on all public comments.

Cynor pointed out that if the county board meetings were taped and televised, there would be not need for photographers.

“Ironically, you are taking up a proposal that would limit public participation,” he said.

He pointed out that both the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Acts were intended to “foster government accountability.”

As Cynor was saying the acts were “..only effective when,” McHenry County Board Chairman Ken Kohler interrupted, saying, “Would you wrap it up?”

“That’s the reason I’m asking you to take this off the consent agenda,” Cynor replied.

When consideration of the rules came up at the end of the meeting, they were taken off the consent agenda.

They probably would have been with the McHenry County Democratic Party Chairman’s plea, but I thought his was a skillful way to differentiate his part from the Republicans putting forth the First Amendment restrictions.

“I don’t have any comments,” Chairman Hill started. “I have beat this thing to death.”

I don’t know what the changes in public participation were, but they seemed to revolve around making the 30 minutes a hard and fast maximum. I guess some members were irritated at having to listen to the public as a result of past experience.

“I assume we will have some very spirited discussion on flash photography,” she added.

Algonquin’s Marc Munaretto started the pile-on.

“This reminds me of something you might find in high school in sophomore class,” he said, referring to gum chewing rules in study hall.

“We have security in the building.

“We have the sheriff across the street.”

He had other complaints that included paying for cards and stationery for county board members.

“This has no business in our rules…I’m not happy with any of the changes proposed.”

“I had somewhat the same objections,” Virginia Peschke of Bull Valley continued. She wondered why the taxpayers were even paying for stationery.

As to the disturbances camera flashes caused, she said, “Unless something is terribly disruptive, I don’t think we should deal with it (in the rules).”

Peschke saved most of her complaining for restrictions on citizens talking about zoning matters to members of what she characterized as a legislative body. She advocated getting an Attorney General’s Opinion.

“We get stuff in the mail and on the phone, but they can’t speak at the podium. (That’s ridiculous!)”

Fox River Grove’s Dan Shea got off the best lines.

“Law enforcement uses flash bombs to distract people, yet we are being asked to make important decisions under similar situations,” he said.

I think Barb Wheeler next made a motion that was not intended to support the rules changes.

Hill regained the floor.

“Points well taken. Mr. Munaretto personally got in touch with the committee. I emailed all of you saying the rules are confusing. I offered to separate it…(On) zoning we have gotten opinions from our current state’s attorney,” she noted before saying she had “no problem” asking for an Illinois Attorney General’s Opinion.

“I’d like to sidestep Ms. Wheeler’s motion. Please make your comments. I’d like to take it back to committee.

“All I heard about was flash photography,” Hill said.

At this point Chairman Koehler agreed with Peschke, but pointed out that what he had said about the public’s limiting their comments on zoning was intended to prevent county board zoning decisions being “overturned by a judge.”

Hill had “one last comment for public participation. It’s top on my agenda. I want live streaming on the internet,” adding that she hoped board members would approve the cost.”

“No more flash needed,” she said.

“She’s also thinking about live voting,” Koehler added.

By this point Munaretto had moved to postpone consideration until June. Marie Chmiel pointed out that it might not be possible to get revisions in the hands of members 14 days ahead of the June meeting, so the board decided on reconsideration at it July meeting.

McHenry’s Pete Merkel discussed how some web site advises people to contact their county board members, instead of going to the Zoning Board of Appeals. He said it led to the “disrespect of the ZBA process.”

Joining the board members in the free ranging discussion at this point was McHenry’s Sandra Salgado.

“I think we should hold all of our meetings in the evening.”

She pointed out that municipalities do so and their staffs are expected to attend.

Lone Democrat Jim Kennedy of Lake in the Hills agreed.

“I also have some concerns about the board rules of Mrs. Hill,” he added.

Harking back to public contact on zoning matters, Shea said, “I don’t think people understand the difference between sworn testimony and public comment.

“There’s only so much time in a lifetime. The only way to control it (public comment) is to (clamp) down on it.”

Peschke informed the group that in the lawsuit, which had been alluded to, “the ZBA was accused of taking information after the hearings were closed.”

Marengo’s Mary Lou Zierer complained about the Zoning Board of Appeals not having enough night meetings when people can attend.

Koehler pointed out that some ZBA meetings had been held at night.

Mary McCann, who lives on Kishwaukee Road in the westernmost county board district got her turn next.

“I will support Mr. Munaretto’s comments.”

John Hammerand of Wonder Lake noted, “It’s very seldom when the members can express a wide variety of subjects. This is a wide and varied discussion. I think that’s healthy. “

Next, it was on to the sign ordinance, on which Barb Wheeler’s Planning and Development Committee is seeking comments.

“If you have comments and concerns, please let me know,” she said against the backdrop of the shredding of the rules presented by Tina Hills’ committee.

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