BURR RIDGE, IL – The Burr Ridge Village Board last week enacted new limits on public input, despite a watchdog group’s warning that the rules contained unconstitutional content-based restrictions.

Under the new policy, the board would prohibit abusive language or personal attacks, including sexist, ethnic, racist or similar derogatory language. It also limits public comments to municipal business.

Additionally, the rules would require speakers from groups to identify the groups’ officers or organizers.

The rules were inspired by what trustees considered misbehavior during a recent zoning hearing for Capri Ristorante’s controversial proposal for a new night spot. The conduct included slurs against Italian Americans in the meeting’s Zoom chat.

“What this is addressing is essentially decorum at the meeting, which unfortunately recently has been lacking in certain circumstances,” Mayor Gary Grasso said at last week’s board meeting. “This is only to bring home the point that decorum is expected.”

Trustee Guy Franzese, who asked for the rules, said it was unfortunate that the board had to choose this route.

“There is no censorship. There is no freedom of speech being attacked,” he said. “You can say what you want. You have to say it in a respectful and considerate manner.”

However, Ben Silver, an attorney with the Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center, said the rules include unconstitutional limits. He used Hinsdale High School District 86 as an example. Last year, the district incurred nearly $50,000 in legal costs after settling a federal lawsuit over its ban on mentions of specific personnel.

The government, Silver said, can only prohibit a “very limited” amount of speech. He said he understood that public input can get heated.

“But there is room to conduct an orderly meeting without including provisions that violate our First Amendment,” he said.

The village’s lawyer, Michael Durkin, said he would advise meeting chairmen to be cautious because “very, very, very little speech” is unprotected.

“If someone uses profanity or an ethnic slur, I would suggest your first action isn’t to cut them off and expel them,” Durkin said. “Expelling someone is a very, very last resort.”

Grasso referred to the rules as “guidelines.”

“Anyone who wants to say what they feel in their heart and their mind, we recognize that as respectful. We’ll even give someone a rubber band and stretch that as much as possible as they get emotional, as sometimes people do. I do,” the mayor said. “Show your passion on issues. That’s allowed. That’s encouraged.”

He added, “Mr. Silver’s opinion is well-received, but it doesn’t mean that he is the authority here.”

The board unanimously approved the rules.

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