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Watch now: Coles County Board puts time limits on public comments
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Watch now: Coles County Board puts time limits on public comments


CHARLESTON — A strict enforcement of the Coles County Board's policy limiting public comments during its meetings was met with criticism Tuesday.

The restriction on the amount of time spent on the comments didn't keep the board from hearing questions about a solid waste matter, property taxes and more.

Before the meeting's public comment session began, board Vice Chairman Brandon Bell announced that the policy — limiting each person's comments to three minutes and total time from the public to 30 minutes — would be enforced.

Bell, who presided at Tuesday's meeting in Chairman Mike ZuHone's absence, said the board was "here for you to express your views but not to engage in dialogue."

In response, county resident James DiNaso said the time restrictions weren't justified because there's only an opportunity to address the board during its once-a-month meetings.

"I don't think it's fair for us to wait 30 days for three minutes," DiNaso said. "My time is just as precious as yours."

The board established the policy in February of last year but Tuesday's meeting marked the first time it was strictly enforced.

Bell informed each speaker when the three-minute limit was reached. He and other county officials regularly replied that the speaker should contact someone directly with questions.

Watch now: Refurbished World War II tank, memorial re-dedicated at Mattoon's Peterson Park

County resident Les Combs again addressed the board about concerns with a new version of a rural waste drop-off plan the county has implemented.

He said he wanted a response from the board by its next meeting on his contentions that the original drop-off program shouldn't have ended and its funding shouldn't be used for recycling programs instead.

County State's Attorney Jesse Danley told Combs he had reviewed some documents Combs provided on the matter but then asked Combs to contact him directly to discuss them.

DiNaso also addressed solid waste issues, questioning money the county Regional Planning and Development Commission spent during the last three years.

Commission Director Kelly Lockhart explained that the funds were used for work on recycling events and related activities. He also suggested DiNaso call him if he wanted more details.

Coles County tourism revenue grew in 2019 before COVID-19 hit special events in 2020

County resident Robb Perry asked if any adjustments were planned on current property reassessments because of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Perry suggested having county Supervisor of Assessments Denise Perry attend the board's next meeting to address the issue. Bell responded that contacting the assessment office "would be the best way to get your answer."

Meanwhile, the board's votes Tuesday included approval of relocating the Mattoon location for early voting, which begins Sept. 24. For early voting only, the Mattoon location will be the Salvation Army Citadel, 1300 Richmond Ave., instead of Mattoon City Hall.

The board also voted to set the 2021 fiscal year salary for county Public Defender Anthony Ortega at $178,960.18, an amount that meets the level needed to qualify for partial reimbursement from the state.

LOOK BACK: Mattoon locations through the years


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Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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