Overflow crowd expected at IDOT hearing

Doug Finke

A July 31 hearing on whether more than 100 Illinois Department of Transportation jobs should be moved to southeastern Illinois will be held in the state Capitol, and officials are already expecting an overflow crowd.

The Legislature’s bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability decided to hold the hearing in Room 212 of the Statehouse, in part because it is already set up for hearings. The room is the largest hearing room used by the General Assembly.

Even so, COGFA expects the crowd will be too large to fit into the space. Another 250 chairs will be set up in the Capitol rotunda, along with a large video screen and speakers.

“We’re getting calls every day from people wanting to attend,” said COGFA executive director Dan Long. “Emotions are running wild at IDOT. We could have 400 or 500 people.”

The crowd is expected to be augmented by a large contingent from Harrisburg and its surrounding area. Harrisburg is where Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants to transfer IDOT’s Division of Traffic Safety.

200 from Harrisburg

“Our goal is to possibly have at least 200 people (at the hearing),” said Kim Glasscock, president of the Saline County Chamber of Commerce. “They are trying to show a strong support from our area.”

Linda Sesser, administrative assistant to Harrisburg Mayor Valerie Mitchell, said the mayor is working with others in the area to organize a bus trip of supporters to Springfield. She said it is too early in the process to predict how many will attend.

“The only thing I know right now is there are a lot of people interested in coming up,” said Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, who is involved in the organizing effort. “I’m not sure how many are coming, but a lot of people want to show that it’s a great place to live.”

The hearing is scheduled to start at 5 p.m., but Long said doors may open 60 to 90 minutes before then. Additional Secretary of State Police also are being assigned to the building while the hearing is taking place.

Some details of the hearing must still be worked out, Long said, including whether time limits will be placed on the hearing itself or on individual testimony.

“Everyone can’t testify. We don’t want everyone saying the same thing. That could go on forever,” Long said.

‘Follow the book’

Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, a co-chairman of COGFA, will preside over the hearing.

“My sense is this is a personal issue to many people whose livelihoods would be impacted by the decision and therefore are likely going to want to attend in person,” said Schoenberg, D-Evanston. “We should make every effort to be as accommodating as possible to people who wish to come to their Capitol.”

Schoenberg helped write the state law that requires the administration to follow a specific process — including public hearings — before closing a state facility. In announcing the move to Harrisburg, Blagojevich described it as a “done deal,” even though the hearing hadn’t been held. Schoenberg declined to comment directly on Blagojevich’s statement.

“We’re going to follow the book on these proceedings and have the commission fulfill its important role,” Schoenberg said. “The commission recommendation will carry considerable weight, which is precisely what was intended.”

The commission will hear testimony for and against the move and make a recommendation whether it is justified.

Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin and other city leaders will testify at the hearing, said Davlin spokesman Ernie Slottag.

Locals work together

“We’re working closely with community leaders, including the Chamber (of Commerce) and legislators, so that we can put our best community step forward and have a well-organized presentation,” Slottag said.

Tim Rogers, vice president of business development and attractions at the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber itself will focus on the economic impact on Springfield of losing more than 100 jobs and the payroll that goes with it.

Rogers said local groups are working together to each present a part of the story.

“It will cover the gamut so we are not repeating the same thing,” Rogers said.  “There’s enough of a story that there’s a piece for everybody.”

Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, and Reps. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield and Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, also are scheduled to testify. All three have questioned the administration’s claim that the move will save the state money. They say there are options, both private office space and vacant space in state-owned or leased buildings, in Springfield that could accommodate the workers.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.