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Civic Groups Urge Greater Transparency and Public Access from Chicago City Council

Posted on February 29, 2024

The Better Government Association, the Civic Federation and the League of Women Voters of Chicago have called on Chicago’s City Council to improve transparency around Council and committee agenda items and increase public access to and ability to participate in meetings.

CHICAGO — A coalition of three local civic organizations—the Better Government Association, the Civic Federation and the League of Women Voters of Chicago—sent a joint letter on Tuesday to Mayor Brandon Johnson and City Council members urging that the Mayor and council deliver on their stated commitment to transparency by publicly sharing legislation being considered by the council in a timely manner and by allowing the public sufficient opportunity to weigh in on those issues.

One of the key concerns highlighted by the coalition is that the council’s agenda items are frequently introduced to committees without prior public posting of their text. In addition, items addressed in meetings are often not posted to the Clerk’s electronic legislative management system in a timely matter after meetings.

“Even when agenda items are posted 48-hours in advance, as required by law, it’s not sufficient time to allow the public to review the full text of the items, decide whether to comment and then prepare verbal or written testimony,” said Civic Federation President Joe Ferguson.

“Based on the way the City Council and committees operate currently, there is hardly any opportunity for meaningful public participation,” said David Greising, president of the Better Government Association. “We recently saw City Council overreach by creating physical restrictions to council chambers—without first soliciting public input or proposing rule changes. This likely was not legal and had to be reversed.”

The Better Government Association’s advocacy on the matter of physical access to council meetings helped get those rules reversed, but the sequence of events highlighted the importance of civic organizations protecting public participation in the democratic process.

The coalition in its letter offered several recommendations to address their concerns around agenda transparency and public access to meetings.

“We hope to see several changes made by the Rules Committee, including extending the 48-hour requirement for posting agenda items to four business days, eliminating the practice of direct introduction and ensuring that the full substance of all agenda items, as well as supporting materials, are posted online ahead of items being taken up,” said Jane Ruby, president of the League of Women Voters of Chicago. “We look forward to working with the Mayor, Rules Committee and council members on these proposed changes.”