Castronovo’s request to address board denied

December 16, 2009

‘Squeaky wheel’ silenced by chairman’s office

By Stuart R. Wahlin

Staff Writer

Mike Castronovo, who has for months criticized design elements, namely medians, of the newly-rebuilt Harrison Avenue (see “County, Castronovo try to reach middle of the road on median issue” in the Dec. 9-15, 2009, edition) was denied—for a second time—an opportunity to speak to the Winnebago County Board Dec. 10.

A day prior to the meeting, Castronovo submitted his request to address the body, but was informed the following day by Deputy County Administrator Earl Dotson Jr. that he would not be granted the floor for 3 minutes during public comments.

County code states: “Non-members may address the board if written request is submitted to the county board office by 12:00 p.m. the day of the board meeting for which recognition is sought. The written request must identify the name of the speaker, specify the subject matter the speaker will address, and indicate the speaker’s interest in the subject.”

According to his written request, Castronovo planned to discuss a recent accident involving a median on Harrison Avenue. The accident, he stated, could have resulted in death.

Because traffic often flows in excess of the posted speed limit of 45 miles per hour on the road, Castronovo said the 6-inch raised medians along Harrison Avenue are hazardous.

As for denial of his request to address the board, Castronovo asserted, “As far as I can tell, clearly based on the county ordinances, to be denied to speak is a violation of those ordinances, and that makes it illegal.”

According to a publication by the Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center, state and federal laws do not require city councils and county boards to allow public comments during meetings.

“However, if the council decides to allow public comment, constitutional law provides that government officials cannot discriminate among speakers,” the center noted. “If the public body allows one person to speak, they cannot prohibit another speaker because of the viewpoint that person wishes to express or because they do not want that particular person to speak.”

Asked to explain the denial of Castronovo’s request, County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) indicated: “He spoke eight times on that issue now. I’ve been out there personally. An engineer and Earl Dotson were just out there, so we’re on that issue of his.

“And then, he was also wanting to talk about a certain accident that could involve litigation,” Christiansen added. “At that point, it’s not appropriate for public comment, but no one can argue we’ve [not] given him ample opportunity to speak.”

For months, Castronovo has warned that the medians are accidents and lawsuits waiting to happen.

He responded, “I don’t know why they want to defend this thing so bad, but it’s to the point that, until it costs lives, they won’t relinquish, and I don’t think it should be that way.”

Meantime, Castronovo has asked State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato (D) to evaluate the incidents in which he’d been denied opportunities to speak.

“His request was for me to put something in writing and send it to his office for him to look at,” Castronovo said. “So, I have written him about a two-page letter explaining what’s happened, about the times that I’ve been denied to speak.”

He noted he’s also aware of another gentleman who was denied an opportunity to speak regarding the recently-approved wind farm ordinance.

Bruscato has been asked to comment regarding whether the denials were proper once he’s received and reviewed the information.

From the Dec. 16-22, 2009 issue

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