The River Forest village board adopted a policy regarding public comments at public meetings at the July 13 virtual board meeting, addressing concerns raised since the COVID-19 pandemic caused meetings to be conducted virtually.
When Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order limiting public meetings in March, the River Forest village board and others were forced to conduct board meetings virtually, which eliminated the ability of residents to make comments in person at a meeting. Since then, the village board has allowed residents to make comments via telephone and over Zoom during meetings.
After village officials received requests from 15 residents wanting to address the village board via telephone during the committee of the whole (COW) meeting on the proposed affordable housing ordinance June 8 and additional comments, including close to 50 via email, Trustee Patty Henek asked at the June 22 meeting that the board consider a policy addressing the issue.
After extended discussion July 13, the board voted 5-1 to adopt the policy with Henek casting the negative vote after requesting that the vote be delayed to allow trustees additional time to consider the issue and allow residents the opportunity to share their opinions. In previous meetings this year, Henek has suggested delaying votes on the affordable housing policy and the red light camera contract to give officials more time to consider issues.
All trustees stressed the need for a policy that allows residents to share comments with elected officials with discussion prior to the vote addressing handling comments submitted via email; the timing of when comments are submitted; and how to include resident comments in the public record.
“No barrier has ever been put up to residents,” said Village President Cathy Adduci. “We’re just trying to streamline the process.”
Under the policy, only comments made in person, by telephone or over Zoom will be heard during a village board meeting and comments submitted through the email address on the agenda will be sent directly to trustees and included as part of the minutes but not read aloud at the meeting.
To address a problem that arose when email messages submitted over the weekend prior to the June 8 COW meeting were not forwarded to trustees until the morning of the meeting, residents will be encouraged to send comments to email@example.com. Trustees will receive forwarded copies of those email messages as they are received.
Under the policy, residents who cannot attend a meeting and are unable to address the board by telephone or over Zoom will not be allowed to request that their written or emailed comments be read aloud during the meeting. Village Administrator Eric Palm said those residents will be told that their written comments will be sent to the village board.
In response to a question from Trustee Respicio Vazquez, village Attorney Greg Smith said the policy applies only to village board meetings and that members of other village committees and commissions are able to set their own policies.
“The only change is now we’re on Zoom,” Adduci said. “I don’t think it hinders residents. It doesn’t change what we’ve been doing.”