DeKALB – More than 15 people voiced concerns Monday at DeKalb’s City Council meeting about controversial unlawful assemblies ordinances that passed on first reading two weeks ago.
Hours before the meeting, the mayor requested council members table the item and send it to the city’s Human Relations Commission, which is what will happen next.
“There has been significant concern raised from persons in the community,” Mayor John Rey said. “I am convinced that more education is needed and more conversations need to be had.”
The topic generated a 20 minute debate before Monday’s agenda was even approved and was the topic of discussion for nearly three hours.
Sixth Ward Alderman Dave Baker and 7th Ward Alderman Anthony Faivre voted against removing the item from the agenda.
Baker said he wanted to hear from the public before removing the proposed ordinance – which passed on first reading at City Council’s Jan. 11 meeting.
“I want the opportunity to vote it down tonight,” Baker said. “The whole idea of trying to interpret the constitution puts the hairs up on the back of my neck.”
Representatives from Northern Illinois University’s Black Student Union, NIU faculty members, the chairman of DeKalb’s Human Relations Commission and numerous residents all criticized the ordinances Monday.
“Students were not consulted on this,” said Timi Adeboje, president of the NIU Black Student Union. “The idea that an ordinance that would alter the constitutional rights we have as students without even being consulted comes off as very sneaky, it comes off as very inauthentic. ... We want to have an opportunity to make our voices heard.”
Residents protested the procedure of the vote – it was voted on without going before a committee or discussed at the DeKalb Committee of the Whole – and the fact the the vote took place when NIU students were on winter break.
Bob Snow, 4th Ward Alderman, said that he was in favor of slowing down the process to allow further discussion but
encouraged the public to look at the state law, which is what the city would be left with in the absence of a local ordinance. Snow cited the Illinois ordinance on mob action.
Illinois statutes define mob action – in part – as two or more people knowingly or recklessly using violence or force to disturb the peace.
“How vague is that?” Snow said. “I think something less intrusive than state law would be appropriate for this community.”
The proposed ordinance will go before the Human Relation Commission at a future meeting. Chairman Larry Apperson was in attendance Monday.
“What we have here is an important issue that goes beyond just the rights to assemble,” Apperson said. “We have a great opportunity here in DeKalb, to hear all the voices that make up DeKalb.”
Police Chief Gene Lowery presented background on the ordinances for the crowd at Monday’s meeting and was met with open criticism, questions and skeptical laughter from people in the gallery, leading to the mayor calling the meeting to order.
“At the end of the day, things could have been gone about better,” Lowery said. “From my end, I should have seen what was coming down the road. Having been advised as to what the best principles were. It didn’t seem like it was taking anything away.”
Fifth Ward Aldermam Kate Noreiko said that halting the progress of the proposed ordinances should allow for better rules to be crafted.
“Clearly there is a division in thinking about these ordinances,” Noreiko said. “My hope is that by allowing more reasoned time for discussion and analysis that the groups could come together.”