Park District Board Members Placed Under Citizen’s Arrest for Not Allowing Public Comment

| by Lisa Fogarty

Every single member of a park district board in Illinois was placed under citizen’s arrest by the leader of a watchdog group after the board reportedly failed to allow public comment following a two-and-a-half hour meeting, reports NBC Chicago.

John Kraft, co-founder of Illinois Leaks, formerly known as Edgar County Watchdogs, stood up at a Clark County District Board meeting in May and announced – in front of the 30 or so people who were in attendance – that he was placing the board under citizen’s arrest for violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The act protects a citizen’s right to provide comment and take up issues he or she has with the elected representatives at official meetings.

The crowd gathered that day to address “park-related controversies.” After waiting a lengthy amount of time while the board engaged in a closed session, they were then reportedly informed during the open session that they wouldn’t be allowed to speak with board members about their concerns.

Kraft says that, even after he alerted the board to the fact that they were violating a law, they still refused to allow anyone to speak. He said it was the “way they said ‘no’ that prompted him to take action." The advocate, who attends several board meetings a week, even shot video of the citizen’s arrest and posted it on YouTube. Board attorney Kate Yargus can be heard in the video telling people they were “free to go” and that their comments wouldn’t be heard that evening.

In an email statement, Yargus wrote: “There is a clear precedent in Illinois for resolving these matters, and the board has followed it. Aside from that, the issue is moot.”

But Clark County Sheriff Jerry Parsley, who responded to the scene, sided with Kraft, saying the board was in violation of the law.

“It’s not that they should have,” Parsley said of the board’s responsibility to allow public comment. “They’re mandated to. The people need to have their voice. It’s not a dictatorship; it’s a democracy.”

Kraft’s partner, Kirk Allen, filed a lawsuit against the park district board. He is fighting for the board to create an Open Meetings Act policy – and to pay for Illinois Leaks’ legal expenses, which will cost about $400.

“Sooner or later, we’ve got to start enforcing our laws,” Allen said.

Jeff Wallace is the only board member thus far to come forward and side with the watchdog group. He said taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to fund the lawsuit, and that the board’s attorney should be held accountable for the mistake made in not allowing the public to speak at its meeting.

“You have 30 people, they just sat outside executive session for more than two hours, and you’re not gonna allow them to talk?” Wallace said. “What a slap in the face.”

Source: NBC Chicago