JOLIET – A Joliet resident says she is asking a state agency to investigate whether a city commission’s meeting on the Rialto Square Theatre marquee violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.
Candace Johnson said she sent a formal request to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to determine whether the Historic Preservation Commission violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
Kevin Heinemann, the commission’s chairman, said no violation has occurred.
The request comes after an online uproar over the design of the future Rialto marquee, publicly unveiled Nov. 24. Many residents have expressed dissatisfaction with the new look and thought there should have been an opportunity for public input.
In 2007, the design of the marquee was unanimously approved by the Rialto Square Theatre’s governing board, the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority. Once theater staff found a donor who would pay for construction, they sought and received unanimous approval in recent months from the Joliet Historic Preservation Commission and the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
However, Johnson wrote in a letter dated Thursday and addressed to the Attorney General’s Office she could not find an agenda for the Historic Preservation Commission online for the Sept. 24 meeting, where replacement of the marquee was discussed. Nor were minutes of the meeting posted electronically, she wrote.
She wrote the date of the meeting was available by “following a counter-intuitive link,” but not on the commission’s website. Johnson also wrote there was no agenda or meeting description posted on the bulletin board at City Hall.
“They said they had an open meeting regarding changes to the marquee. If people can’t find the agendas of the meeting, then how are they supposed to show up?” Johnson said Friday.
“It’s all under the table and hidden at this point,” she later added. “I don’t think that’s fair to the Joliet residents at all.”
Heinemann said it was his understanding that the agenda, minutes and schedule of meetings didn’t have to be posted online because the commission doesn’t have a full-time webmaster. All of that information is available at City Hall, he said.
He said there was no violation of the Open Meetings Act.
“Absolutely not. We want people at our meetings. Please, attend our meetings,” Heinemann said.
The commission unanimously approved Sept. 24 a certificate of appropriate for the design for the marquee, he said. The commission believed the marquee was appropriate for a building marked as historical, he said.
Johnson said as of Friday, she hadn’t received a response from the Attorney General’s Office. A message left by The Herald-News with the Attorney General’s Office was not immediately returned Friday.
Joliet Mayor Thomas Giarrante said he heard of Johnson’s letter Friday. He declined to comment about it until speaking with the city’s legal counsel. City Manager Jim Hock did not immediately return calls for comment Friday and attempts to reach the city’s legal department were unsuccessful.
The Zoning Board of Appeals has online an agenda and minutes of its Nov. 20 meeting, where board members unanimously approved a variation for the marquee.
On Friday, the city’s website for the historic preservation commission showed an overview of the board and commission members – but no names listed – along with meeting information. There is no meeting schedule posted and a link to agendas and minutes showed no further links to the documents for that commission.
When it comes to the WCMEAA, Randy Green, the Rialto’s general manager, said the board is not required to put its meeting agenda and minutes online. But it does post them at the entrance to the Rialto’s administrative offices, 15th E. Van Buren St., he said.
He said the Rialto does not have a full-time web administrator or technical staff to put meeting information online.
The WCMEAA meets at 4 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday of the month, with the exception of November and December, when meetings are scheduled a week earlier, Green said.
The board – a civic center authority responsible for the Rialto’s management – is a public body but has no taxing or bonding authority, he said.
Green said the board would consider making projects with high interest more public in the future.
“I would suspect there would be a conversation about that,” Green said. “I can’t speak for the board, but I would think they are aware of people’s interest and will want to be cognizant of that.”