The Peoria County Board of Election Commissioners said it’s committed to transparency and will make changes to future public meeting notices. The pledge is contained within a written response to the Illinois Attorney General's Office review of the election commission’s open meetings practices.
WCBU formally asked the Attorney General’s office on June 22 to review the board’s June meeting after the initial media notice stated, “the meeting is via video/telephone and is closed to the public.”
Citizens could file questions in advance. The June 16 meeting in question was streamed on Facebook Live, but WCBU couldn’t find public notice of the viewing option.
Illinois law requires public boards–including the election commission–to hold meetings the public can attend. Gov. JB Pritzker’s March 16 executive order allows for complete virtual meetings in the wake of COVID-19, but public access rules didn’t change.
The Attorney General’s public access bureau requested additional Peoria County Board of Election Commissioners documentation on June 24, after WCBU’s concern was filed.
In a June 30 letter, election commission Executive Director Thomas Bride admitted the Facebook Live meeting option wasn’t known until after the initial meeting agenda was made public. WCBU received a copy of the commission’s letter Tuesday morning as part of the review process.
“Some confusion might also stem from the fact that the first WebEx Board meeting (April 2020) notice included the link to the WebEx meeting,” stated Bride’s letter to public access deputy bureau chief Joshua Jones. “After technological advice was given to the Board about that practice, the second and third WebEx Board meeting notices (May and June 2020) did not include the link.”
Bride further stated, “Unintentionally, a reminder that a WebEx invitation or dial-in information could be requested was omitted from the notice of the May and June WexbEx meetings when the actual link to the WebEx meeting was no longer included.”
WCBU asked Bride via email to clarify public access options hours after the June 11 meeting notice was sent. His response didn’t include a WebEx link or the Facebook Live option.
“The County has being [sic] closing their meetings to the public when being done via video/telephone with questions and comments by email and we are just using the same protocol,” stated Bride’s June 11 email to WCBU.
Bride told WCBU verbally on June 12 that the meeting would be streamed via Facebook Live. A June 11 post of the Peoria County Board of Election Commissioners’ Facebook page relayed the initial “closed meeting” language. There was no subsequent Facebook mention of the Facebook Live stream ahead of the meeting’s start.
Bride’s Tuesday response to the public access bureau says future notices will include a Facebook Live reference and a reminder on how to request WebEx access.
“It was never the intention of the Board to lack transparency,” said Bride’s letter to Jones. “We are operating in unprecedented times like everyone else.”
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