Hearing on IDOT move will include public comment period

Doug Finke

State employees and other members of the public will be allowed to testify at a hearing next week on moving state transportation workers to southern Illinois, but they’re going to have to wait awhile.

A long list of state agency officials, lawmakers and others will testify first at the July 3, hearing, according to a tentative agenda provided by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. About 25 members of the public have so far asked to testify, and they will get a chance when the others have finished.

“We’re trying to put together a structured, organized hearing that allows everyone’s position to be heard,” said Trevor Clatfelter, deputy director at COGFA. “With a lot of meetings I’ve had, we’ve always had a public comment period at the end.”

Clatfelter is mayor of Sherman, which is just north of Springfield.

COGFA will conduct a hearing on the Illinois Department of Transportation’s plan to move its Division of Traffic Safety from Springfield to Harrisburg in far southeastern Illinois. IDOT plans to buy half of a building in the town to relocate the more than 100 employees in what it says is a cost-saving measure. Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said the move also represents economic development for a depressed part of the state.

 Springfield-area lawmakers and city leaders argue that there is ample office space here to house the employees, and at a lower cost than the leased space they now occupy in a building known as the IDOT annex. They’ve also said the move is unfair to traffic safety employees who will be forced to uproot their families in order to keep their jobs. Blagojevich has said employees who do not want to move will be offered comparable jobs in Springfield.

COGFA, which is composed of 12 lawmakers, will listen to testimony and later vote on whether the move is justified.

The tentative agenda calls for the hearing to open with IDOT Secretary Milton Sees and Department of Central Management Services Acting Director Maureen O’Donnell making the case for the move.

They will be followed by state and local elected officials from Springfield and Harrisburg, the Illinois Procurement Policy Board (which has raised questions about the move) and the Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs. The institute is conducting an economic-impact analysis of the move on behalf of COGFA. An analysis conducted for IDOT concluded that Springfield’s economy will lose $8 million from the move, although Springfield officials believe that estimate is low.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Teamsters Local 916 will testify next. Both unions represent traffic safety workers.

After that come “others.” The agenda lists only three so far — the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, the Capitol Area Association of Realtors and the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association.

The hearing is expected to draw an overflow crowd, even though it will be held in the Capitol’s largest hearing room. Additional seating, with video screens and audio, will be set up in the rotunda.

“I spoke to the mayor of Harrisburg. They could be bringing up as many as 300 people,” Clatfelter said.

Harrisburg officials are organizing busloads of people to attend the hearing as a show of support for their area. Harrisburg Mayor Valerie Mitchell could not be reached Tuesday. Her administrative assistant, Linda Sasser, said she was not authorized to talk about how many people from the area plan to attend.

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

Want to participate?

People who want to testify at the July 31 hearing on the Illinois Department of Transportation’s plan to move its Division of Traffic Safety from Springfield to Harrisburg can sign up to do so right up until the hearing’s 5 p.m. start.

Because of the large number of expected witnesses, though, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability said it is preferable for people to sign up in advance by calling the office at 217-782-5320.

You don’t have to testify to let your feelings be known about the move. By calling that number, COFGA staff will fill out a form with your name and your position on the move, either for or against. The form will be added to the documents given COGFA members as they decide if the move is justified. About 75 people have done that so far.

COGFA also will take written testimony in lieu of live testimony the night of the hearing. It can be submitted at the hearing, to COGFA’s office at 703 Stratton Office Building, Springfield, 62706; or to COGFA’s Web site,