Tiffany Henyard controversy: Residents denied public comment in board meeting

Politicians don't always like to hear from the public.

But some south suburban residents say controversial Thornton Township Supervisor and Dolton Mayor Tiffany Henyard took extraordinary—and possibly illegal—steps to prevent them from speaking at a public meeting Tuesday night.

The sign outside Thornton Township's office in South Holland reads, "Welcome to Thornton Township. People working with people." But when residents showed up Tuesday night to speak at a public board meeting, they got anything but a warm welcome.

"When I arrived there was security here," said Stephanie Wiedeman, a former township employee and frequent Henyard critic. "He was standing at the bottom of the stairs preventing anybody from going up to the boardroom. I asked him if the meeting was downstairs, he replied yes."

Wiedeman and a handful of other residents wanted to speak directly to Supervisor Tiffany Henyard, who has generated controversy for spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on trips, police security, billboards, and her own personal charity.

"I'm just curious to see who makes the decisions about how our tax dollars are being spent," said Thornton Township resident Paul Robertz, who also tried to attend the meeting. But they never got that chance.

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After being blocked from going to the boardroom upstairs, the residents were sent to the basement where they were told the township board meeting would be held. It wasn't. They say they asked for a signup sheet for public comment and never got it. And before they knew what had happened, the four-minute meeting upstairs was over and Henyard was gone, without hearing from her constituents.

"They are violating our rights," said Wiedeman. "I pay taxes here. I have a right to get up and speak whether this administration likes it or not."

Not only were the residents shut out, so was a local newspaper reporter who came to cover the meeting.

"I was told by a security guard that I was not allowed upstairs where the boardroom meeting is," said Josh Bootsma, managing editor of the Lansing Journal.

Bootsma said residents deserve to know how elected officials are spending their money.

"Thornton Township is the largest township in Illinois. So there are a lot of people that are affected by the financial decisions that the township makes," Bootsma said.

READ MORE: Dolton Mayor Tiffany Henyard's taxpayer-funded billboards raise questions

Thornton Township Trustee Chris Gonzalez, a frequent Henyard critic, said he was ordered out of the boardroom until the meeting began. Gonzalez said he believes open meetings laws were violated.

"Well definitely. If somebody wants to speak at a public meeting, it’s a public building. They should be able to come in," Gonzalez said.

The residents say they will file a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General's Office for violating the Open Meetings Act. FOX 32 sent Supervisor Henyard an email about the meeting, but so far she has not responded.