The end of the state’s COVID-19 emergency may at least temporarily reduce Evanstonians’ online access to some government meetings.

With the termination of the governor’s emergency declaration Thursday (May 11), special rules that let government bodies hold meetings entirely online during the pandemic have ended.

So, under provisions of the state Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS 120/2.01 and 5 ILCS 120/7), a quorum of the members of a public body once again must be physically present in a meeting room, and other members can join remotely only if they’re sick or away because of work or a family or other emergency and the other members vote to let them do so.

The OMA permits anyone to record open meetings (5 ILCS 120/205).

It also gives “any person” an opportunity speak at public meetings, but it lets the public body establish its own rules (5 ILCS 120/2.06g) for such participation.

So it appears there’s nothing in state law that will require a local government to continue to allow residents to watch or participate in meetings using Zoom or Google Meet or other online tools.

Alison Leipsiger, policy coordinator in the Evanston city manager’s office, says nothing will change for Evanston City Council meetings, except that members will have to be present. For the public, she says, the experience will stay the same — with meetings streamed live and residents able to offer public comment over Zoom.

But for other meetings, she says, “We’ll still try to include a virtual option for the public, but this might not be up and running for for every board, committee or commission in the next few weeks” as staff makes the transition.

“We recognize how valuable the virtual options have been for both members of public bodies and the public,” Leipsiger says, but the technical switchover may take a while.

As for individual ward meetings held by council members, Leipsiger says those are not considered public meetings under the OMA, unless a majority of a quorum of council members were to attend.

So the individual alders can continue to hold them in person, online or in a hybrid format as they wish.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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