O'Fallon Progress

O’Fallon plans to enforce public forum decorum

The O’Fallon Progress

The O'Fallon Progress serves readers in O'Fallon.
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The O'Fallon Progress serves readers in O'Fallon.

Starting this week, decorum guidelines will be enforced for the public comments portion of each O’Fallon City Council meeting.

The city recently implemented social media guidelines on the city’s official Facebook page, based on information from the state. This is to keep public forums open but to ensure they are safe.

This means people must be respectful in their comments and at the council meeting and not exceed their time allotment of five minutes. The city is clarifying this to let people know how they should conduct themselves while providing public comments.

Mayor Herb Roach said concerns about citizens’ safety have been cited recently.

“Unfortunately, several people have expressed concerns to us about their safety in attending city council meetings due to recent events during the public comments portion of the meeting. I want to assure everyone that we want an open and safe environment for all our citizens to be able to come and express their ideas and concerns with the city council,” he said. “We are not infringing on anyone’s freedom of speech.”

Anyone who comes up to the audience microphone will be given up to five minutes to speak. When five minutes have elapsed, the city clerk will inform the speaker/s their time is up. If the time limit is exceeded, the microphone will be turned off and speakers will be asked to take a seat.

Speakers who exceed the five-minute limit who do not cease talking and/or step away from the podium after being warned, will be asked to leave the chamber. If they refuse to do so, a police officer will escort them from the chamber.

Anyone who gets loud, abusive, or threatening will be warned once and if they continue, they will have their microphone turned off and they will be asked to step away from the podium. If they refuse to do so they will be escorted from the chamber by a police officer.

If anyone has any papers or materials they wish to share with the council, they should leave them on the table in front of the podium.

Members of the public are not permitted to approach the dais without permission from the mayor or presiding alderman.

“We want all people to feel safe in city hall and encourage everyone to come and express their ideas and thoughts to our council,” Roach said.

Roach said the city decided to make the procedures that have been in place for several years known to the public after several people expressed concerns about their safety in attending council meetings.

This was a response to recent events during the public comments portion, he said.

“We are doing this to help have an environment where people will feel safe to come and express their concerns or recommendations to our city council,” he said. “We don’t want people to not feel safe to come to council meetings and express themselves to the council.”

Roach encourages public comments

Roach said citizens should feel welcome to come and express their ideas and concerns to the council, and no individual’s actions or words should be such they discourage others from speaking.

“We have been fortunate that city council meetings are generally civil, and we have not had to enforce the procedures of decorum that have been in place for several years,” he said. “However, the rules of order and procedure for city council meetings will be enforced in order to provide the opportunity for all residents to attend a council meeting and feel safe.

“These measures will not infringe on anyone’s freedom of speech. However, they will require that all presenters are respectful in their speech and time allotment.”

The codified Rules of Order and Procedure can be found in the O’Fallon, Illinois, Code of Ordinances Title III, Chapter 30 Section 30.07.

“One of my priorities as mayor has been to provide an open and accessible city government,” Roach said.

Beginning Aug. 12, the city implemented new rules on the official Facebook page, following guidelines from the Illinois Secretary of State.

“In order to facilitate more engagement and civil discussion, comments containing any of the following inappropriate content will not be permitted and are subject to removal and/or restriction:”

  • Comments not related to the original topic, including random or unintelligible comments;
  • Profane, obscene, violent, sexual, or pornographic content and/or language;
  • Content that promotes, fosters, or perpetuates discrimination on the basis of race, color, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin;
  • Defamatory statements or personal attacks;
  • Threats to any person or organization;
  • Solicitation of commerce, including advertising of any business or product for sale;
  • Conduct in violation of any federal, state, or local law;
  • Encouragement of illegal activity;
  • Information that may tend to compromise the safety or security of public or public systems;
  • Spam or links to other sites;
  • The promotion of services, products, or activities not related to government business;
  • Content in support of or opposition to political campaigns or ballot measures;
  • Information about a user that is private or personal; or
  • Content that violates a legal ownership interest, such as a copyright or trademark.