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Decatur council members talk about changing public comment section of meetings

Decatur council members talk about changing public comment section of meetings

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DECATUR — City council members during a study session Monday discussed whether a change is needed in the rules on the public comment section of meetings

"Every single one of us is always open to talking with the public and communicating with them," Councilwoman Lisa Gregory said. "But there have been times where the public comment has nothing to do with the agenda we are considering and they have to do with elements that are completely out of our purview and many times they become vindictive and hateful."

Current public meeting procedure allows those who wish to speak to do so for three minutes at the beginning of the meeting and again after each agenda item. The council discussed several possibilities, including eliminating the public comment after agenda items, shortening the length of the time limit for comments at the beginning of the meeting or after agenda items and other measures. 

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Councilman Chuck Kuhle said many citizens don't know the order of meetings and they might not know to show up for public comment at the beginning when they really wanted to inquire about an item that won't be discussed until later on.

"I have found that most of the public comments have been constructive and on topic and they have helped formed discussion," Councilman David Horn said. "At the end of the day, the council is overseeing a general fund budget of $68 million dollars and so on average we are overseeing about at least $5 or $6 million dollars every month and if an individual wants to spend three minutes of time speaking about a particular topic during that agenda item, they should be welcome to."

City Manager Scot Wrighton said this is not an issue isolated to Decatur. 

"Every city is a little bit different as they struggle to find that balance between doing the public's business and you want to hear from them but you also want to put limits on especially toxic speech and we've seen some of that," he said.  "So how do you find that right balance and every council struggles with that."

No action was taken. The study session followed a special meeting in which council members authorized a number of insurance coverages for city employees.

Also on Monday during the meeting, a 2020 street project summary was discussed. It included a five-year plan for street improvements, a $7.9 million Brush College grade separation project, the Taylor Road bridge replacement, the Center Street bridge replacement and Illinois Department of Transportation projects. Details regarding finances for storm drainage improvements, sanitary sewer improvements are also being ironed out by city staff. 

Horn said the council needs a clear idea of how much some of the city's major projects will cost.

"We've not really talked about spending for some of our significant priorities like neighborhood revitalization and at some point we will need to do so," Horn said. 

City Treasurer and Director of Finance Gregg Zientara presented the treasurer's financial report, stating the city's financial position remains stable and improving, but delicate at the present time. The city ended August 2019 with a total cash position of $67 million excluding trust and agency funds earmarked for police and fire pensions. 

Contact Analisa Trofimuk at (217) 421-7985. Follow her on Twitter: @AnalisaTro

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