If there’s an election in North Riverside, it seems to bring out the most juvenile instincts in political partisans – from the inevitable social media misinformation to campaign sign theft and damage.
In past elections where temperatures have run high, there have been lawsuits filed alleging libel and protracted petition challenges arguing the most arcane technicalities.
None of that has happened yet, but the 2021 election has brought with it a new wrinkle. In an era where people attend meetings via Zoom, there’s now an opportunity to drop off a comment and ask that it be read for you at the appropriate time of a village board meeting.
This, of course, allows proxies to submit correspondence they either don’t want to put their real names to or don’t want to read themselves, because they really didn’t write them.
At the past two village board meetings, there have been dueling letters of this nature, one clearly submitted under a fictitious name and another submitted by a real person, but one that looked and read more like a campaign speech than a resident comment to the board.
The correspondence has led to trustees questioning their colleagues’ motivations and claiming they are victims of inappropriate political attacks during village board meetings, where such remarks should be off limits.
The trouble is, First Amendment protections are broad and deciding what is and is not “village business” is a minefield for anyone trying to do so. Once you start prohibiting public comment for content reasons, you expose yourself to a protest to the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor.
We’re guessing that such a protest would be taken seriously by that office and that the village would be told to stop limiting free speech at public meetings.
So, in the absence of a blanket ban on “political” comments at board meetings, how about this:
How about those involved in election campaigns – either surrogates or candidates themselves – have the courage of their convictions. If candidates have a problem with the actions of their opponents, put your names to those complaints and air them openly.
If your concerns are legitimate, why are you hiding from them?
Instead of burning energy with notes suggesting inappropriate behavior and nefarious motives, how about those involved in running for mayor, clerk and trustee provide the community with actual platforms of what policies they intend to pursue and how they intend to accomplish them?
We’re nearly a month into this campaign and less than three months from the election, and the community has seen precious little in the way of how any of the candidates propose to substantively govern North Riverside.
Just spit-balling here, but that might be an actual focus for an election.
This is an important election for North Riverside, which has embarked on a comprehensive planning process that includes large-scale rewrites of its municipal and zoning codes to help guide future development in a village where non-property tax revenue is critical.
North Riverside needs adults at the helm, so it’d be nice for the adults running for election to reveal themselves to voters.