The Watch | Public meetings during the pandemic



At every government level — from Washington D.C. to Springfield to Peoria — COVID-19 is changing the subject, the format and the outcome of public meetings.

When the Peoria County Board held its March 12 meeting, for example, Chairman Andrew Rand tinkered with the agenda a bit. He offered to let Peoria City/County Health Department Director Monica Hendrickson go first to give a virus update.

Hendrickson told board members the COVID-19 situation is fluid and evolving. Stopping it entirely is not possible, so the goal is to slow down the number of those infected in order to protect the public as much as possible. She predicted it will be a marathon effort.

With a hand-washing reminder from Rand, regular business resumed … sort of. Even everyday items are shifting.

In a second example from the same meeting, the board approved a proclamation recognizing the “Gerald M. Brookhart Arts in Education Spring Celebration.” This would have been the 35th year for the program which brings school children to the Peoria County Courthouse to perform for the office-workers lunching on the plaza. Any other year, such a proclamation is a no-brainer.

But Gov. JB Pritzker closed the schools five days later. A stay-at-home order was issued on March 21, which may or may not be lifted May 1. The arts program is cancelled, the courthouse has been closed and meetings are taking place over the Internet. Even the county’s website now leads with a link to COVID-19 information.

In other county news, the consent agenda was approved, including zoning items like a variance for a cell-tower in Hallock Township, which would be 55 feet above the 200-foot limit in a non-residential area. A cooperative research agreement between the County and Bradley University for a pavement management program and a 2.5% pay increase for Peoria County Administrator Scott Sorrel were also approved.

At the March 10 meeting of the Peoria County Election Commission, Director Tom Bride reported coronavirus concerns from Independence Village, slated to be a polling place on March 17. He contacted two other senior living facilities — St. Sharbel and Lutheran Hillside Village — which were also worried about a possible threat to their elderly residents. All three polling places were moved. Nearby venues already in use shared their spaces, taking opposite sides of the room to cut confusion. A mailing was sent to affected voters.

Bride told commissioners that 2,514 vote-by-mail ballots had been sent as of that day. Roughly 1,000 had been returned and there were 2,550 early voters.

Some problems with early registration were mentioned. People who registered to vote many years ago may not have been asked for a driver’s license or Social Security number. Two forms of identification are needed now, and this had made it difficult for those people to get vote-by-mail ballots. Commissioners were told that those affected can update their information in person or by phone.

A special meeting of the Peoria Housing Authority was held on March 12 to discuss Taft Homes redevelopment.

Only two commissioners were there, Kim Furness and secretary Helen King. (Chairman Carl Cannon was ill.) But PHA Director Jackie Newman, who is also Director of the Springfield Housing Authority, was joined by Springfield’s Deputy Director Melissa Huffstedtler.

Bear Development will construct the new housing and a representative was present to update: Stakeholder meetings have been held with the City of Peoria and Taft residents. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has approved the initial application; and the next phase was due in March. The Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) allows for a specific number of public housing units to change to federal-based vouchers. About 226 units will be demolished to make way for 142 single- and duplex-style homes.

The East Bluff Project is part of this effort. Jane Genzel, Executive Director of Peoria Opportunities Foundation, gave its overview: There are 16 RAD properties. Twenty single-family homes and five duplexes will be built. All have two or three bedrooms and are fully-applianced.

Bear Development expects the process for approval and funding to take until the end of 2020. Funding will include Individual Development Accounts (IDA) to help low-income people and promote asset building and home ownership.

For full LOGO reports of local meetings, check The Illinois League’s Voter Guide offers information about candidates at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *