MACOMB — The Macomb City Council shared that they have taken steps in order to deter interruptions, like those that occurred during a recent meeting.
Western Illinois University Interim President Martin Abraham spoke about concerns of racism in the community during the June 15 council meeting, but his comments were met with racially-charged disturbances. City Administrator Scott Coker revealed that Mayor Mike Inman has since apologized to Abraham.
“During his (Abraham’s) remarks, we all became victims of undesired participants disrupting the meeting with inappropriate actions,” Coker said in a statement.
Coker said that the council decided to disable features like screen sharing and the comment section during meetings that take place via zoom. The changes weren’t made to exclude anyone from the meetings, according to Coker.
“This was not in any way an attempt to censor or discourage comments or input from our community,” Coker said. “The chat function is not official public comment. They are side conversations between some participants on the call, similar to private conversations in council chambers during an in-person meeting. The chat can also be used by those with other motives to cause disruption.”
Part of the adapted ruleset for online meetings included creating an email address for public comments to be read aloud during each meeting; however, several members of the community submitted comments that weren’t read.
“We immediately reached out to our technical support company to ascertain if any emails had not been delivered to the email inbox. Our outside tech company discovered there were four emails that were intercepted by the software protocols they put in place,” Coker said.
He said that they reached out to those email addresses and gave the owners the opportunity to re-submit their comments. Following their decision to disable screen sharing and chat, the city has no plans to take further action, such as limiting attendance.
“To minimize access to the meeting undermines an openness of public government wherein anyone can participate,” Coker said.
During Monday’s special meeting, one public comment highlighted a different perspective.
“The council allowed racist tactics including obscene videos and racial slurs repeatedly to interrupt Dr. Martin Abraham’s address. Dr. Abraham and WIU deserve an apology, but the bigger issue is that Macomb’s elected officials need to start taking active steps to end racial injustice in our city. Photo ops, conversations, and town halls are not enough,” Merrill Cole wrote in.
The petition to investigate the Macomb Police Department and remove Chief Curt Barker, which has surpassed 10,000 signatures, sparked several public comments. While Heather McMeekan said that the lack of transparency within the department is apparent, others disagree.
“I think our police force and mayor are working tirelessly for all of us and they have my full support and vote of confidence,” one submitted comment read.
“The Macomb PD, sheriff’s office, WIU OPS, and ISP all put their lives on the line on a daily basis for this community. The leaders of these department have been led through ridiculous scrutiny over the past few weeks after doing nothing more than being respectful and thoughtful to all – while trying to support their officers and doing their best to keep them safe and us safe,” another comment read.
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