Stookey Township resident Dan Weaver, who is critical of township operations and Supervisor David Bone, wants to express his opinions to the board of trustees during the official “public participation” portion of township meetings.
But in the last two monthly meetings, Bone has banned Weaver from speaking.
Bone said in an interview he prevented Weaver from speaking before the board in July and August and will bar him from speaking during future meetings because Weaver has “harassed” township employees.
Weaver denies harassing township employees, and Bone declined to give details of what he believes Weaver did.
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One of the township’s rules for public participation states the township supervisor has “the right to terminate any discussion” that falls outside of Stookey Township matters or is “argumentative or harassing” toward the Board of Trustees.
In the July meeting, Bone refused to allow Weaver to speak, and Weaver then accused Bone of threatening him in a May phone call, according to a video of the meeting taken by Stookey resident Bill Stone. In the video of Weaver’s remarks, Bone did not immediately comment about this accusation. In an interview, he declined to comment on Weaver’s remarks.
In the August meeting, Bone again refused to allow Weaver to speak during the public-comment portion. Bone asked Weaver at least six times if he would be “civil,” according to a video taken by Stone.
“Yes or no? Are you going to be civil in your conversation?” Bone asked.
“I’ve always been civil in conversation,” Weaver replied.
Bone and Weaver then exchanged similar comments several times and after about a minute, Bone broke off the conversation and then addressed the next resident who wanted to speak.
“I’m not a troublemaker,” Weaver said in an interview. “The people that are in power are the troublemakers. They’re spending money when they shouldn’t be spending money. They’re doing terrible things to everybody in the entire township.”
Weaver said he wants to address the township board regarding several complaints about the township, including equipment purchases and the recent hiring of a township employee.
“I do deserve the right to speak and I do deserve good government because I’m paying for that good government,” said Weaver, who plans to run for highway commissioner in the township in the 2017 election.
Stone said the township’s speaking rules don’t allow the supervisor from preventing someone to speak. He also said he was “offended” by the way Bone treated Weaver.
Stone said Bone’s attitude during board meetings is one of “I’m the boss and you do what I say.”
The next Stookey Township board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 14. The township building is at 313 Eiler Road and the township’s area includes neighborhoods adjacent to the west side of Belleville.
‘Democracy can be loud’
The Illinois Open Meetings Act states “any person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established” by a public body.
Don Craven, legal counsel to the Illinois Press Association, said of Weaver: “People are entitled to express their opinion. I’m not sure he’s doing himself any favors with his use of language, but that’s his choice.”
“Because somebody is harassing or is claimed to be harassing township employees, that’s not a reason to deny somebody’s right to speak at a public meeting,” said Craven, who specializes in handling First Amendment cases.
“This is a democracy,” Craven said. “Democracy can be loud. Democracy can be noisy. Democracy can be inefficient, but you don’t get to shut people down because you don’t like the way they look, the points that they make, whatever objections you might have … Public officials simply have to learn to patiently listen even if they don’t want to.”
Craven said he’s never heard of a public body permanently banning a resident from speaking.
“I don’t think the statute contemplates that,” he said.
Annie Thompson, deputy press secretary for the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, said the agency could not comment on the specifics of Weaver’s case without conducting an investigation. Weaver said he contacted the Attorney General’s Office on Friday about filing a complaint, and he plans to mail it to the public access counselor for the Attorney General’s Office.
Thompson said the public access counselor for the Attorney General’s Office has received four other complaints about Stookey Township, and those cases are under review.
Thompson said the Attorney General’s Office encourages residents to contact the agency’s Public Access Counselor if they have a complaint about the state Open Meetings Act or the Freedom of Information Act. For more information, go to illinoisattorneygeneral.gov and on the left side of the page, click on the green public access counselor icon.
Last year, the office fielded more than 3,700 complaints about the Freedom of Information Act and 328 complaints about the Open Meetings Act.
How to file a complaint
The Public Access Counselor of the state’s Attorney General’s Office reviews complaints about a public agency’s actions involving the Open Meetings Act or the Freedom of Information Act.
A request for a review can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Sarah Pratt, Public Access Counselor Office of the Attorney General, 500 S. Second St., Springfield, IL 62706.
The request must be submitted within 60 days of the denial of the Freedom of Information Act request or the alleged violation of the Open Meetings Act.
For more information, go to illinoisattorneygeneral.gov or call 1-877-299-3642.