Public now allowed to attend City Council meetings in-person as election season heats up

Monday's City Council meeting was the first time in over two years the public could attend in-person. The move came as political hopefuls also filed petitions ahead of the November 28 deadline.

An exterior view of City Council chambers, as shown November 4, 2022. A public notice advises that in-person gatherings have been cancelled. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
An exterior view of City Council chambers, as shown November 4, 2022. A public notice advises that in-person gatherings have been cancelled. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis

Monday’s City Council meeting marked the first time the public was allowed to attend in-person since the onset of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of the move, meetings will no longer be recorded, according to the Office of the City Clerk.

Vaccination, testing, and masking will not be required for entry.

This comes after two years of complaints from residents over restrictions to in-person public attendance at City Council meetings.

Monday also marked the deadline by which those seeking municipal office had to file their petitions as the city heads into election season.

Since March 2020, public attendance had been virtual. Meetings were streamed on Facebook Live and posted to the city’s YouTube page.

In January, ahead of the final vote of Harvey Lofts, a controversial affordable housing development, city officials abruptly changed the format, moving meetings to Zoom and ceasing YouTube posting.

The January 10 and January 24 meeting agendas were correctly updated to reflect that residents could attend via Zoom, complying with the state’s open meeting laws.

However, clerk officials still included language advising Facebook Live participation. That language wasn’t removed until February.

Accusations of open meeting violations abound as residents waited on Facebook Live for meetings that never happened, confused about the shift.

City officials convened in-person while meetings were streamed and recorded via Zoom. Public comment was also virtual.

Residents were required to call the Office of the City Clerk to request the Zoom link. However, some public bodies in Harvey, like Thornton Township High Schools District 205, include a clickable, hyperlink on the agenda document itself.

You can still retrieve previous footage through a public record’s request.

The mayor’s office has argued that the COVID-19 pandemic makes in-person attendance a public health issue. Alderman Tracy Key (4th) and Tyrone Rogers (6th) had asked for in-person public attendance.

The messaging from both the mayor’s and clerk’s office had long been conflicting.

A public notice outside of Council chambers, visible for several months, that reads “Public Notice: In-Person City Council Meetings have been canceled until further notice,” was still visible hours before Monday’s City Council meeting as law enforcement officials conducted a training in the chambers.

And, clerk officials incorrectly attached an November 14 meeting agenda for Monday’s meeting on the city’s website. The agenda also reads “cancelled” in bold, red letters.

The meeting for November 14 was indeed cancelled.

Several city-approved in-person gatherings while residents were barred from attending City Council meetings in the chambers fueled additional criticism.

Gatherings have included a Veteran’s Day event this month, a presentation on basement flooding co-hosted with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in June, and a public safety meeting in August 2021 during the Delta surge.

Most notably, the mayor’s office permitted the Office of Senior Services, overseen by former 2nd ward alderman Joseph Whittingon, to host senior bingo in Council chambers—even last fall’s deadly Omicron surge.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the elderly and immunocompromised people were among the most vulnerable to the deadly respiratory virus.

During the October 24, 2022, City Council meeting, the city attorney said Mayor Christopher J. Clark initially wanted to let residents attend in-person ahead of the city’s presentation on home rule status.

Governor JB Pritzker’s office has extended its natural disaster proclamation but has continued to ease restrictions like testing requirements in schools, bars, and restaurants.

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