Public hearings can often be contentious and go on for hours. A new Illinois law gives communities under 500,000 the ability to develop their own rules for public hearings:
Those procedures could deal with the rights of participants to cross-examine witnesses and present evidence during a public hearing.
“It really boils down to efficiency,” said Annie Thompson, the governor’s spokeswoman. “The governor believes in getting the people’s business done in a manner that’s open and transparent but also in a manner that’s efficient. This bill will help (local) governments do that.”
State Rep. Darlene Senger of Naperville said she proposed the legislation in response to the marathon public hearings that happened when Navistar submitted plans to move its headquarters to Lisle…
“This bill allows municipalities that are interested in severely restricting who can participate in the process — under the guise of efficiency — to institute undemocratic and unfair rules,” said Terry Pastika, the center’s executive director. “When you think about the anti-democratic rules it could justify, it’s a big problem.”
I can see both sides. On one hand, a public hearing can go on for hours if a large or vociferous enough crowd wants to talk. These meetings can drag into the wee hours of the morning, making it difficult for public officials in smaller communities who work part-time as public servants. Additionally, one could argue that at some point there may be diminishing returns: jut how much does a group have to say to convince public officials that they don’t like a proposal? On the other hand, there are few official settings where citizens can interact with public officials. Public hearings allow citizens to express their opinions and make their voice heard. Citizens can feel that if they make a convincing or large enough argument, they can sway the outcome.
I would guess that this new law will have this effect: communities and citizens will now have spend some time figuring out what are appropriate rules where both sides feel like they can do what they want to do.