Daily Herald opinion: The return of night meetings a positive step for DuPage County Board

If you want to see how most local government boards operate, you can do it by attending a night meeting.

City councils, school boards, library boards, township boards and park boards all gather at night to allow members of the public to show up after work and dinner.

But if you want to watch a regular DuPage County Board meeting in person, you must get to the county administration building in Wheaton by 10 a.m. on the second or fourth Tuesday of the month.

That wasn't always the case.

For more than a dozen years, the county board had a handful of night meetings every year. But that practice stopped in 2018.

Last month, county board member Dawn DeSart suggested it was time to try to have night meetings again.

"We have people who work day jobs and can't take time out to come to a 10 a.m. meeting," DeSart said before board members were poised to vote last month on their meeting schedule for 2024.

To their credit, the county board members eventually approved a schedule that includes convening a meeting at 7 p.m. on May 28 - the day after Memorial Day.

However, the decision was not without debate and was a minimal concession to public access.

Some doubted the schedule change would boost public participation. At least one longtime board member pointed out that few people attended previous meetings at night.

That's a fair point.

Other factors beyond the time of day also decide how many people attend a meeting. For example, residents will show up if there is a controversial topic on the agenda that they want to talk about.

But that doesn't mean you should scrap the idea of having night meetings. Holding meetings at night at least provides the opportunity for increased public involvement.

DeSart originally suggested replacing two daytime meetings with night meetings next year. It's unfortunate the board agreed to only one. If you haven't had a night meeting in years, holding just one isn't likely to create much of a habit among wannabe government watchers. It could take a while for people to form a habit and realize the option is even available.

While we would like to see a return to multiple county board meetings at night, the DuPage board does excellent work with transparency.

County board meeting agendas and packets with a wealth of information are readily available online. And the county already livestreams and posts board meetings on YouTube. You can watch the recording of a board meeting at any time.

The truth is there are several municipalities, school districts and other local taxing bodies that would benefit from DuPage County's example.

It also should be noted that most county boards in the suburbs don't meet at night. So DuPage deserves some kudos for even trying it. Other county boards should take the tip and consider it, too.

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