DuPage County Board votes to stop reading emailed public comments aloud

DuPage County board members this week voted to eliminate transportation impact fees. (Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer, 2020)

If you want your comments to be heard at DuPage County Board meetings, you’ll have to make them in person.

County board members Tuesday voted 9-7 to discontinue the practice of reading aloud public comments sent via email during county meetings. Public comments sent via email still will be distributed to county board members and will be part of the public record.

During the pandemic, a number of governmental agencies, including the DuPage County Board, allowed residents to send public comments electronically. Those emails were then read into the record.

“It was a good fix for the pandemic to offer something [for public participation],” county board member Liz Chaplin said.

Chaplin and others who supported the change, however, noted it is easier for comments to turn harshly negative when the submitter knows someone else will read them aloud during the meeting.

“We don’t have any way to verify who is sending this stuff in,” county board member James Zay said.

Noting that county meetings typically take place during normal work hours, county board member Dawn DeSart said sending an email is the only way some residents can participate.

“In the end, I don’t think that the board voted for transparency,” said DeSart, who was among the seven members who voted to continue reading emailed comments at meetings. “I want to hear from the public whether they can be there in person or not.”

Members supporting the change argued that having a county staff member read emailed criticism of board members or other county employees aloud can put that staff member in an awkward position. The new change also will help streamline the public comment portion of the meeting, which on some occasions lasted longer than the allotted 30 minutes because of the nature and number of emailed comments.

Although public comments will not be read aloud during meetings, Zay said it does not mean people will not be heard.

“I do read them,” Zay said of the emails. “The people’s opinions are seen by all the county board.”

Alicia Fabbre Daily Herald Media Group

Alicia Fabbre is a local journalist who contributes to the Daily Herald