Editorial: Local governments should meet in person
(in collaboration with
the Illinois Press Association)
Every local government has issues large and small that affect the lives of the people it serves.
Should residents be allowed to have chickens within town? What programs should the school district cut to balance the budget?
Even matters that may seem trivial are important to someone. It is the duty of public officials to give every matter serious consideration. And it is the duty of citizens to whom those matters are important to provide advice.
The pandemic has shown us that virtual meetings can play an important role in providing widespread access to these deliberations -- in a way that livestreaming cannot quite duplicate.
As we have said in this space previously, we strongly encourage local governments to continue this access. It is possible to do so cost-effectively while simultaneously conducting in-person meetings.
All that said, let there be no mistake: In normal times, when a health crisis does not exist, these meetings ought to be carried out in person, allowing for in-person interactions.
Those meetings, many times held in a room full of people with passionate and sometimes opposing viewpoints, are fundamental and vital processes that play out throughout the suburbs.
A bill introduced earlier this year by state Sen. Christina Castro of Elgin would give government entities the power to conduct any meeting electronically, not in person, for any reason.
It is supported by the Illinois Municipal League, but while it might make governing easier for municipalities, it would do so by cutting access to the public, and that is wrong and anti-democratic.
Anyone who has attended a virtual meeting during the past 18 months knows discussions are shorter and ultimately less effective when they are not held in person, face to face. Dialogue simply isn't as meaningful when we're all in different rooms.
Certainly, the pandemic was a valid reason for taking proceedings from council chambers to a Zoom room. But it was simply an exception to the rule, a need that no longer exists as we all return to a safer normal.
The public has a right to interact with their elected officials, face to face.
We believe local governments should do it both ways simultaneously -- in person as an obligation to the public, and remotely as a convenience to the public.
The point is not to increase the convenience to public office holders. It is to increase and ensure access to the public. That is government's obligation.
Castro's bill should be rejected, or sharply revised, severely limiting the government's remote options to true emergencies.