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Citizen input is vital in decisions

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Our Opinion

By Dave Bell

Two significant meetings, dealing with topics that are important to our community, are coming up. Each  should attract significant crowds, so citizens can participate in decisions that will have long-term impacts on the quality of life in Vandalia.
The first is next Tuesday's monthly meeting of the Vandalia Board of Education. This meeting, typically, is the one at which program and position cuts are voted on. And it looks like more of each are likely.
The board, on March 10, held its "winter retreat," for which the agenda included "discussion on funding/revenue issues and plans." The Leader-Union attempted to sit in on that meeting – even though school officials said that no action would be taken – but our reporter was told that the meeting was closed because "personnel" issues were going to be discussed.
Though the Illinois Open Meetings Act does allow meetings to be closed when specific individuals are being discussed, a general discussion of staffing and program cuts does not, in our opinion, qualify as a legitimate reason to close the entire meeting.
The results of those discussions will be voted on at the board's meeting next Tuesday. We hope there is adequate explanation and discussion of the board's rationale for the cuts that seem to be inevitably coming. The public needs to know the process and the thinking behind the cuts.
The other event is an "open house" public hearing at which the Illinois Department of Transportation will present the remaining proposed routes for the four-lane version of U.S. Route 51. That hearing will be held from 4-7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 2, at Mother of Dolors Parish Center in Vandalia. As in previous public hearings, there will be no formal program presented; rather, several IDOT officials will be available for individual citizens to ask questions and discuss the routes currently on the table.
Again, we encourage area citizens to take part. We're approaching the time when IDOT engineers will be deciding on the roadway's eventual route. If we are going to have a say in that route, the time to comment  is now. Otherwise, the machinery may be irreversibly put in motion to select an option that we do not like and do not want.
Engineers have admitted that Vandalia presents the most difficult situation in the remaining four-laning stretch of U.S. Route 51. With the Kaskaskia River on the east, Interstate 70 on the north and considerable development (industrial, commercial and residential) on the west, the alternatives are limited. We must, however, have a significant voice as the final route is determined.
For details, see the Legal Notice that ran in the Feb. 27 issue of The Leader-Union (on page 11). Similar hearings are planned in Patoka (April 1 from 4-7 p.m.) and Ramsey (April 3 from 4-7 p.m.).
In both of these issues, we're not saying the officials holding the meetings are doing so with bad motives or  are attempting to exclude the public. We simply want the public to be informed and to be present when important decisions affecting our community are being made.
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