The city of Decatur is proposing to significantly limit public participation at meetings at a time when citizen-driven decisions are most needed
On Monday, February 3 at 5:30 PM, the Decatur City Council will be voting on whether to eliminate the general public’s ability to comment after each agenda item on the council’s agenda (as is current practice), and limit the total amount of time for public comment to 30 minutes at the beginning of each meeting. I am strongly opposed to restricting public comment at meetings.
THE CITY’S ATTEMPT TO SIGNIFICANTLY RESTRICT PUBLIC COMMENT COMES AT A TIME WHEN WE NEED CITIZEN INPUT AND ASSISTANCE THE MOST - Decatur has one of the fastest shrinking populations in the United States. As of April 1, 2010, the population of Decatur was 76,131 and as of July 1, 2018 the population was 71,290 (a 6.4% decrease, data from U.S. Census Bureau). To increase the number of Decatur citizens and reverse population decline, the city has significantly increased its rate of involuntary annexation and Decatur’s practice was highlighted in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/17/us/census-annexation-illinois.html).
In addition, Decatur is also considered to have one of the fastest rates of per capita wealth decline in the United States. Over approximately 60 years, the city went from an inflation adjusted per capita income that ranked 53rd highest in the country in 1959 (out of 380 municipalities) to 197th highest in 2018 (https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/12/02/american-cities-that-went-from-rich-to-poor/40662605/).
Decatur’s declining population and per capita income are significant challenges that must be overcome for our city to prosper now and in the future. In my view, working collaboratively with a diverse set of stakeholders including citizens is the best way to solve our collective challenges. This means a city government that is open, transparent, and embraces citizen perspectives.
DECATUR’S NEIGHORHOOD REVITALIZATION INITIATIVE SHOULD BE CITIZEN-DRIVEN. THE CITY’S RESTRICTIONS ON PUBLIC COMMENT MAY HAVE THE OPPOSITE EFFECT - In November 2019, the Decatur City Council approved its strategic priority goals. Neighborhood revitalization is the top priority for the city. In numerous venues, the city has indicated the importance of citizen input and assistance in revitalizing neighborhoods. Restricting public comment on agenda items that impact where people live sends a poor message regarding the city’s desire for more participation in revitalization efforts.
I AM STRONGLY OPPOSED TO RESTRICTING THE ABILITY OF THE PUBLIC TO COMMENT AT MEETINGS - Less public participation will undoubtedly lead to poorer decision making by the city council at the same time the city faces significant and growing challenges. The best solutions often come from the general public. Unfortunately, the city is proposing barriers to our citizens and to solving our collective problems.
HOW YOU CAN MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD - Please consider expressing your view on this matter by attending the next city council meeting and contacting city council members with your views in advance of the meeting. Current practice allows 3 minutes per citizen for public comment near the beginning of each meeting as well as before each agenda item is voted on. An agenda to each city council meeting can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council-meetings/. Contact information for each council member can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council/.