The village of Oak Park has conducted village board and citizen commission meetings remotely for well over a year due to COVID-19 and will continue to do so until at least mid-August. The village of Oak Park was set to return to holding in-person village board and commission meetings July 26, but a disaster proclamation from Gov. J.B. Pritzker allowed for a change of plans.
Issued July 23 and set to expire Aug. 21, the proclamation allows for the continuance of virtual meetings in municipalities, among other steps enacted to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
Upon the proclamation’s expiration, it is unclear whether the village of Oak Park will proceed with the same measures for in person meetings that were laid out in the July 19 village board meetings, such as having no seating for the public inside meeting chambers.
“At the time that in person meetings are permitted, the [village manager’s office] with the Public Health Director will review current mitigation measures and announce parameters for in person meetings, therefore, I can’t say at this time what may change,” Village Manager Cara Pavlicek wrote in a July 26 email to Wednesday Journal.
Responding to a request from Wednesday Journal that its reporter be permitted to attend all in-person meetings, Vicki Scaman, village president, said the Journal will be allowed in the meeting room.
Pritzker’s last disaster proclamation, issued June 25, included language directing municipalities to prepare for the return of in-person meetings.
“[A]s the number of fully vaccinated individuals in Illinois continues to increase, I do not expect to make this finding again, and public bodies should plan on its expiration as of July 24, 2021,” the proclamation reads.
During the July 17 village board meeting, Pavlicek gave the board an overview of the in-person meeting guidelines, including requiring village board members and citizen commissioners to social distance while in meetings, which were to be held in room 101 of village hall, as previously.
“Public seating would not be available in the room, but there will be a place at the entrance for public comment to be made,” said Pavlicek.
The public would have had the opportunity to observe the meeting from a television outside the room. Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla asked the board to consider giving the public the option to submit their public comments electronically to be read by the village clerk.
“I would certainly be in favor of that,” said Scaman.
In public comment, resident Greg Kolar asked the village to continue recording commission meetings, at least in an auditory capacity, and archiving the material on the website, which was supported by Walker-Peddakotla, who in turn asked if all commission meetings would be televised.
“If so, I think that’s great and we need to do that,” she said.
Pavlicek said the village could continue to broadcast and archive commission meeting footage going forward. The village manager told the board that the village’s static camera could record commission meetings. For village board meetings, a member of staff controls the camera, allowing for multiple angles.
Prior to the pandemic, the village only regularly recorded and archived footage from five of its 20 commissions. Every village board meeting is also recorded and archived. Walker-Peddakotla noted that the pandemic provided for greater government transparency as it prompted the village to begin recording and archiving all commission meetings. She felt that the village should maintain that practice.