Fact Check: Citizen threatens to start recall of Galesburg City Council member. Is that possible?

The claims

At the Monday, May 22 Galesburg City Council work session, a resident of Galesburg’s Fifth Ward threatened to start a recall petition to remove her representative — Fifth Ward alderperson Heather Acerra — for proposing to limit individual Public Comment time at city meetings.

The resident said she agreed with a compromise to go from 5 to 3 minutes for public comment, but lowering the time to 2 minutes would “stifle the voice of the American people.” She went on to say she researched the procedure to recall a city council member and noted there are “steps I can take to start the process.”

She went on to say, “I know it sounds severe, but that’s how much I value my Constitutional rights.”

The Fifth Ward resident concluded, “If you withdraw the 2-minute limit proposal and the sign-in, and replace it with 3 minutes and not a sign-in, I will not move ahead with the recall petition.”

Previous discussion that night by the Council, including Acerra, indicated a compromise to at least 3 minutes of public comment time was possible when the group revisits the proposed ordinance change at the June 5 meeting.

Question 1: Can the Galesburg mayor or a Galesburg City Council member be recalled and removed from their elected position?

Question 2: Does limiting public comment to 2 minutes violate the law?

The facts

Answer 1: According to both Galesburg City Clerk Kelli Bennewitz and Galesburg Board of Elections Executive Director Lisa Watson, there is no provision for a recall in the Galesburg Municipal Code.

Watson tells WGIL, “I spoke with legal counsel, and we’re not aware of any state or municipal statute to recall an alderperson, a mayor or an election. And I did check with the city clerk and she said the municipal code does not allow for a recall of an alderperson, mayor or election.”

Speak now or … Here are 5 things to know about the history of public comment at Galesburg city meetings

According to the website Ballotpedia, Illinois has a provision in the state constitution allowing for the recall of the governor. This provision was approved by voters in a statewide referendum in 2010, following the convictions of the previous two governors, Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan. The Illinois Constitution does not specifically address recall of local officials, but several localities — including Buffalo Grove — have provisions allowing recall of elected officials. Buffalo Grove remains the only government to recall an elected official in Illinois history when an council member was removed from her position in 2010.

Answer 2: The Illinois Attorney General Public Access Bureau strongly encourages public bodies to follow the Open Meetings Act’s provision pertaining to public comment but does not have a “best practices” guide for public comment.

Section 2.06(g) of OMA affords any person the opportunity to address public officials at an open meeting. That provision requires a public body to establish and record rules regulating public comment (which can be codified in an ordinance), and those rules may impose reasonable limits on the time, place, and manner of public comment.

Drew Hill, Deputy Press Secretary for the Office of the Illinois Attorney, tells WGIL in a written response:

The Public Access Bureau has previously determined that a rule limiting a person’s public comment time to two minutes is not necessarily unreasonable, that a public body can limit comments to topics that are germane to the public business of the public body (but cannot limit public comment to agenda items), and that a public body may impose a reasonable limit on the overall time available for public comment during a meeting. Whether a sign-in sheet is appropriate will depend on the specific information requested on that sheet, the required sign-up time, and whether that sign-in sheet is easily accessible to individuals who attend the meeting.