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County considers plan to stop recording public meetings

Cook County logo. WTIP file photo
Cook County logo. WTIP file photo

As discussed during a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners in their Committee of the Whole format on Tuesday, April 16, the county may no longer live stream or record public meetings.

This would break from the longstanding tradition of recording a variety of public meetings where the commissioners are present, including all regular county board meetings and, as was started in 2019, committee of the whole meetings.

The agenda for a committee of the whole format is different than that of a regular board meeting. The most significant difference is the fact the county board does not take any votes or action during committee of the whole meetings. According to County Administrator Jeff Cadwell, the purpose of committee of the whole meetings is to have discussion specifically about topics on the agenda.

With regard to recording public meetings of the county board, Cadwell said on multiple occasions that video recordings “create data” and that some of that “data” is taken out of context and used against county staff and elected officials.

Those in attendance, including the entire county board, county administrator, county attorney and county auditor, discussed the board’s procedures and policies regarding public comment periods and recording public meetings by video.

Led by County Attorney Molly Hicken, a roundtable discussion was held regarding open meeting laws, policies for which meetings should be recorded for the county and the format of other meetings such as budget workshops.

In summary, Hicken said the county board is not required to record or live stream its meetings, including regular meetings and committee of the whole meetings. As of January, the board has been live streaming and recording committee of the whole meetings. There was additional dialogue amongst the county board and county administrator about recording meetings that ranged from budget workshops to special meetings.   

While discussing the format for a public comment period, which typically takes place at the start of regular meetings of the county board, Hicken advised the board to keep their existing policy of not engaging in direct dialogue with members of the public even when asked direct questions.

In some instances, Hicken said, members of the public might ask difficult questions about county decisions or business that happened months ago, and it could be challenging for the commissioners to have accurate answers without time to research or consider further.

As there are no decisions made during committee of the whole meetings, the board did not vote to end recording committee of the whole or any other type of meeting. More discussion on this topic, and potentially a vote, is likely during an upcoming meeting of the county board.

There is a regularly scheduled meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, April 23. The meeting will open with a public comment period at 8:30 a.m.
 

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