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Jordan Graham/MEDILL

A protest in front of Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins' office Thursday involved constituents complaining of Collins' lack of accessibility.

County Board candidate links accessibility and social media

by Jordan Graham
Jan 14, 2010

Ade Onayemi held a protest on Chicago’s West Side on Thursday accusing Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins of ignoring her constituents through a lack of accessibility, especially on the Internet.
Onayemi, who is opposing Collins in the Feb. 2 election, said Collins has no Web site, no e-mail accessibility, does not offer a newsletter and holds few town hall meetings.

“It is critical to engage the community if you are representing them,” Onayemi said. “How do you get input from the constituents? It’s a big district of 300,000 people.”
Collins responded by calling Onayemi’s campaign “desperate” and said she does not have a Web site or newsletter because she would have to pay out of pocket. Collins said she is available for contact at her office, and she prints informational pamphlets quarterly. 

“Ade has a Web site, so you’re saying I should have a Web site?” Collins asked. “No. You can go on [the Cook County] Web site and find out what I do, everything about me. Why would I have a private Web site?”
Another West Side commissioner, Robert Steele, maintains two Web sites and a Facebook profile. Steele said his personal Web site increases accessibility to constituents, while his campaign Web site publicizes and explains his platforms. 

Though Cook County provides Steele with a government e-mail address, he said 60 percent of the messages received on that address do not pertain to his job, while 85 percent of e-mails to his personal address are from people searching for specific resources. 

“Most people don’t know what they should be doing if they get a foreclosure notice,” Steele said, “and my Web site helps them access that information.”
Harry Wray, a professor of political science at DePaul University, said that while politicians have no requirement to be accessible, it works to their advantage. 

“The task of a politician is to maximize your chance of getting reelected,” Wray said, “and if [using social media] expands your reach, it’s something you want to do.”
Public officials in Illinois, Cook County and Chicago are not legally required to have personal Web sites or e-mail addresses.