By Nick Reiher
The City of Joliet and NorthPoint officials could be opening themselves up to legal challenges by scheduling a public hearing for Monday on a pre-annexation agreement for a $1 billion business park, according to the general counsel for the Illinois Press Association.
Don Craven said it’s his opinion the governor’s executive order allowing remote meetings and public comment does not include public hearings, where those who testify often can rebut comments. Those who want to weigh in on commenting have a deadline of 5:30 p.m. Easter Sunday.
Also, Craven pointed to a state statute which says such hearings have to allow public notice of at least 15 days and no more than 30 days.
Under 65 ILCS 5/11-15.1-3, he said:
“… all amendments of annexation agreements, shall be entered into in the following manner. The corporate authorities shall fix a time for and hold a public hearing upon the proposed annexation agreement or amendment, and shall give notice of the proposed agreement or amendment not more than 30 nor less than 15 days before the date fixed for the hearing. This notice shall be published at least once in one or more newspapers published in the municipality, or, if no newspaper is published therein, then in one or more newspapers with a general circulation within the annexing municipality. After such hearing the agreement or amendment may be modified before execution thereof. The annexation agreement or amendment shall be executed by the mayor or president and attested by the clerk of the municipality only after such hearing and upon the adoption of a resolution or ordinance directing such execution, which resolution or ordinance must be passed by a vote of two-thirds of the corporate authorities then holding office.”
“It seems to me, in a project of this magnitude, the city and the applicant would want to make sure everything is squeaky clean,” Craven said. “This doesn’t appear to be. I would imagine this could drag the project out even longer.”
The City Council voted April 7 to schedule the hearing for 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 13. Those wishing to testify would have until 5:30 p.m. Easter Sunday to register.
Opponents of the NorthPoint plan were stunned the council scheduled the hearing so quickly, with comment registration over a holiday weekend.
The hearing, and a likely vote, were scheduled initially to take place March 17, but were ultimately postponed to April 7 due to concerns about crowds at meetings during the pandemic.
Some had expected the hearing to be tabled again to comply with federal and state shelter-in-place mandates. But city officials said they were concerned about revenue loss during the order that they estimate could have them out of operating money by fall.
City Manager Steve Jones also said there were some issues with NorthPoint’s land in question – some have speculated options are coming due. He urged the council to hold a special meeting soon to consider the pre-annexation.
Contacted by Farmers Weekly Review, Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said he believed Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order allowing government entities to waive certain provisions of the Open Meetings Act makes it possible to hold the hearing Monday, with only the council and some staff attending.
All comments would be done remotely.
Reprinted with permission