Transparency is threatened once again in Illinois.
Two editorials published this week at Quad-Cities Online cite a CAC survey of over 750 public websites in Illinois as one reason that HB261, this Illinois lack of public notice bill, is a terrible idea.
HB261 proposes to eliminate public notices from newspapers (and from PublicNoticeIllinois.com where every public notice published in newspapers around the state is posted). It would allow notices to be posted ONLY on individual government websites.
CAC survey results showed that despite public notices on websites, many government bodies do not comply. Only 73% posted notices of meetings, 57% posted meeting agendas, and 48% posted meeting minutes.
The changes proposed by HB261 would make it difficult, if not impossible, for local citizens to act as watchdogs over their tax dollars and to monitor the more than 7,000 public bodies in Illinois.
The bill's sponsor claims modernization and access will result. Yet many Illinois residents do not have access to high-speed internet.
Please read the editorials: Illinois public notice bill terrible for state's taxpayers and Public notices need to be noticed to be effective and contact your state legislators to let them know you oppose HB261.
An editorial in the Quad-Cities Online yesterday cites the results of a CAC survey, conducted in conjunction with the Illinois Press Association, of over 750 public websites in Illinois as one reason that the proposed Illinois public notice bill would be terrible for state's taxpayers.
The upshot is that HB261 would eliminate public notices from newspapers and allow them to be posted on government websites. This change would make it much harder for local citizens to act as watchdogs over public bodies and tax dollars.
Read the editorial here.
CAC offers to assist Plainfield Township Park District Board improve transparency and accountability
Maryam Judar, CAC Executive Director offer the following public comment at last night's meeting:
Good evening Plainfield Township Park District Board Members. My name is Maryam Judar and I am the Executive Director and a community lawyer at Citizen Advocacy Center. CAC is a non-profit, non-partisan, community-based legal organization with a mission to build democracy in the 21st century. Among the many projects CAC is involved with, our community lawyers assist people in Illinois with navigating the local government decision making system so that they may affect policy decisions on issues that matter to them most. We also work with government bodies to develop policies and procedures that increase government accountability, transparency, and accessibility to the people they serve.
I am before you today to address the characterization of members of your community on the Plainfield Township Park District government website. Currently, a November 4, 2013 entry is posted referencing Requests for Reviews to the Public Access Counselor's office filed by members of the community. The description of the community members on the website who filed the reviews is a “small group of radicals” who use the PAC review process to “possibly harass the Plainfield Park District Board for its decisions.”
The entry goes on to state that “[i]t is our opinion at the Park District that these complaints were frivolous and a financial distraction from our mission.”
With respect to the public use of going to the PAC, it is important to understand that the PAC serves as an ombudsman between government and its citizens on open government matters. The Public Access Counselor’s office is dedicated to vetting FOIA and OMA issues when the answers are not obvious. Both government entities AND members of the public contact the PAC for answers about FOIA and OMA questions.
The Plainfield Township Park District website characterized the citizens’ use of going to the PAC as “frivolous” and
“potential harassment.” Such characterization of concerned citizens using a legal process to clarify questions about government functioning, especially when the FOIA and OMA legal analyses start with a presumption of disclosure and openness unless there is a valid exemption, is a misunderstanding of the purpose of the PAC and that the
Park District’s response to such inquiries is part of the cost of public business, as well as a misunderstanding of the role of a citizen in a democracy.
With respect to how concerned citizens are characterized on the website, using negative connotations appears to be intended to serve as a chilling effect on members of the public who disagree with government decisions
and how those opinions are expressed. Is it a policy of this Board to belittle the public so as to discourage public participation, the questioning of how government functions, and the use of a resource that is specifically in place to
answer questions of public concern? How does this meet the mission of the Park District?
If you do agree that it is not the policy of the Board to belittle public engagement, we request that such offensive language be removed from the website immediately so that the ostensible values of the public body with respect to citizen engagement – regardless of whether you agree with the viewpoints expressed – is reflected on the website.
If you do not agree, and find that such characterizations on the Park District website adequately reflect the values of the Park Board with respect to citizen engagement, may I suggest that the Citizen Advocacy Center might be of assistance to you in rethinking how to approach citizen participation. CAC has worked with public bodies to help them achieve a higher level of government transparency and accountability, and most recently with Wheaton Park District – at their request. We would be willing to help the Plainfield Township Park District assess their processes and procedures for engaging the public and in streamlining how it provides information to the public so as to lessen its cost relative to FOIA – free of charge to the park district.
Clearly there is a disconnect in how the Board is relating to the public it serves. I suggest that this disconnect does not originate with concerned citizens, but rather it originates in the dysfunctional manner in how the Board interacts with concerned citizens that is causing - as it states on the Park District’s website - “the financial expense to the taxpayers that could have been spent expanding programs for children, veterans, and seniors here in our community.”
For more about the November 13th meeting, check out the following articles:
Plainfield Patch: Peck Calls Citizens ‘Radicals;’ Resident Ejected from Park Board Meeting
The Herald News/Chicago Sun Times: Resident booted from Plainfield meeting
New rule to attend CPS meetings draws complaints
By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah Tribune reporter 8:11 p.m. CDT, August 28, 2013
A new requirement that participants sign up online to attend the monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting drew complaints Wednesday and claims the district is violating the Open Meetings Act.
Ronald Jackson, a regular at CPS board meetings, said he had signed up before the meeting but was turned away by security guards who couldn’t find his name on a list. Jackson asked to see the district’s legal department. Eventually, he was allowed into the meeting.
Jackson said many others who tried to attend the meeting Wednesday where CPS was voting on its budget for fiscal year 2014 ended up leaving after being denied entry.
“I shouldn’t have to be harassed,” Jackson said. “District policy doesn’t override state and federal laws.”
Maryam Judar, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst, said government agencies can ask for people to sign up to speak at public meetings, or even require people to sign up to get a count on attendance. But they cannot deny someone entry into a public meeting because they have not signed up beforehand.
“The purpose of the Open Meetings Act is that deliberations take place in public, and the public may attend the meeting as an observer, Judar said. “It would be in contravention of the Open Meetings Act to limit that availability to a select few. They shouldn’t be turning people away for lack of signing up.”
The district’s guidelines stated people who wanted to speak or even observe board meetings “must register in advance of the day of the meeting.”
CPS officials said later Wednesday they will be amending their guidelines to make it clear that the public is not required to sign up in advance in order to attend the board meeting.
“Our goal is to ensure the safety and accommodate the needs of all attending our monthly Board of Education meetings,” said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll. “That is why we are requesting, but not requiring, that members of the public planning to attend these meetings to register in advance so we can best prepare to accommodate all visitors on those days. Any member of the public who wishes to attend the Board meeting can do so without registering in advance given that there is adequate space in Board chambers and its overflow room."
Read the article at the chicagotribune.com here
On Tuesday August 27th, Maryam Judar gave public comment regarding the revision of the ethics law at both the DuPage County Finance Committee Meeting and the full County Board meeting. The revision passed. Commissioner Liz Chaplin was the single vote against the change. The article appearing in the Daily Herald on August 28th is below:
DuPage County Board loosens cap on campaign contributions
By Robert Sanchez
The DuPage County Board has repealed its self-imposed cap on campaign contributions after the state's attorney's office told members the restrictions can't be enforced.
Instead, DuPage now will mirror state law when it comes to limiting the amount of campaign money county board members and the board chairman can accept from donors doing or seeking county government work. The state cap is less restrictive than the previous limit in DuPage's ethics law.
Advertisement "I like the lower limits personally," county board member Robert Larsen said. "But our state's attorney's office — our lawyers — are telling us it is unenforceable."
Before DuPage's ethics law was revised on Tuesday night, it capped campaign donations from companies and consulting firms, as well as officers and owners of those entities, to $1,000 a year. That limit also applied to any individual appointed or applying for appointment to serve on a board, commission, authority, task force or advisory committee.
Now those same entities and individuals can donate up to $5,300 to county board members and the board chairman during each election cycle. An election cycle can be two or four years.
Government watchdog groups urged the county board to keep the local limit, which DuPage adopted in 2010.
"This revision of the ethics ordinance goes in the wrong direction," said Maryam Judar, executive director of the Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center.
But First Assistant State's Attorney Nancy Wolfe advised county board members that they must follow state law when it comes to campaign contribution restrictions because DuPage isn't home rule.
"The state has set the limits (and) has not given a non-home rule entity authority to enact anything more restrictive or less restrictive," Wolfe said.
The reason DuPage was able to set its cap in 2010 was because the state-imposed limits hadn't yet taken effect. Now that the state law is in place, Wolfe said, "we are bound to follow that."
"A non-home rule county doesn't have authority to act unless it's specifically given," Wolfe said. "No authority (to limit campaign contributions) has been given to us by the state legislature or the Illinois Constitution or the common law."
Judar said she disagrees with that legal opinion. "I don't think it is clear that DuPage County as a non-home rule entity cannot exercise more restrictive ethics," she said.
In addition, officials with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform have said DuPage could, through its procurement system, require vendors to promise not to give more than a set amount to candidates for offices that might have a role in the issuance of their contracts.
Attempts to delay Tuesday night's vote on the ethics law revisions failed. Some board members sought the delay to give watchdog groups a chance to respond to the opinion from the state's attorney's office.
"We're forcing this through," said Elizabeth Chaplin, the only county board member to vote against the revisions. "We're wasting our time on increasing political campaign donations."
August 25, 2013
Honorable Steve Morley
Honorable City Council Members
Delivered via Email
RE: Citizen Advocacy Center Commentary on Addison Street Project Development
Dear Mayor and Aldermen:
Thank you for convening a Committee of the Whole discussion on the Redevelopment of 135-149 N. Addison (Addison LLC Redevelopment). The Citizen Advocacy Center has monitored the Addison LLC Redevelopment project since inception in 2009 and has provided extensive commentary.
It is my understanding that Alderman Gutenkauf and now-Alderman Deuter were the only public officials to attend any portion of the Zoning and Planning Commission (Commission) Public Hearings on Addison Street and therefore are the only public officials who saw first-hand the significant number of concerned citizens and business owners who attended and spoke out against the project as proposed and considered before the Commission. Indeed, by way of reference for those Aldermen who have been on the Council for less than a decade, this hearing was one of the most widely attended since the Block 300 Development.
While the Citizen Advocacy Center has a multitude of issues with the Addison Street project, we find it particularly significant that the Commission, considering only the land use components of the application as they are required to do, unanimously rejected the proposed six-story development. In doing so, they issued a comprehensive set of findings and commentary. I encourage the Mayor and all Aldermen to take the time to read or re-read the report personally, rather than rely on a staff summary. The reason is because the report is multi-tiered and multi-faceted. The Commission summarily rejected the application’s compliance with all mandatory criteria, and in addition, generally commented on the extensive need for holistic planning of the Addison Street Corridor prior to any development being proposed.
The reason for this suggestion is painfully obvious but warrants highlighting: piecemeal development is counterproductive to maximization of use. Additional concerns identified in the Commission report and during the deliberation were:
The Citizen Advocacy Center agrees with the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce and the Elmhurst Economic Development Commission that redevelopment of the Addison Street parcel is important to tax based development. However, the question of what should be built on this parcel of property remains to be answered in a suitable public process. It is unknown, despite asking, to what extent comprehensive planning has been considered for the Addison Street Corridor, who participated, and how the contract to build on the site in question furthered that planning.
Prior to moving forward with further consideration of this particular project, we ask that the City engage in a subarea comprehensive planning process that 1) discloses any previous planning for Addison Street Corridor and 2) seeks authentic public input. Although the City may be in a difficult position because of the contract already entered into for a four-story parking deck project which can be built without the need for a specific zoning process, taking a pause for subarea planning would address the holistic planning failure identified by the Commission.
The City of Elmhurst is fortunate that numerous business owners and citizens have expressed concerns about what happens on this parcel of property. Planning, done properly, provides an opportunity to bring together diverse viewpoints to work collaboratively. In referencing diverse viewpoints, I mean more than those of the City’s business development institutions. The Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce, City Centre, and the Elmhurst Economic Development Commission each serve their own purpose, which is far broader than land use development for a specific subarea of downtown. Bringing together these institutions (some of which have recently submitted general resolutions in support of proceeding promptly with a redevelopment project but none of which provided testimony at the public hearing) along with the several specific business owners (acting on their own behalf), residents, and other members of the public who testified at the Commission hearing, would be a valuable endeavor yielding a result that all members of the community could buy into.
To help facilitate the process, the Citizen Advocacy Center offers to assist City Staff in developing a meaningful public process that involves the institutions referenced above as well as business owners and residents who attended the public hearing, and others. If the City concludes that the Citizen Advocacy Center’s offer is undesirable, I would suggest that City Council direct the City Manager to contact Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, Davenport Institute. It is a program specifically designed to inform municipal government entities in how to engage the public in policy development, far beyond public comment opportunities. While most of their hands-on work and grant making is restricted to California public bodies, I am confident that their Executive Director, Pete Peterson, can provide guidelines for facilitation.
Thank you for your consideration.
Ms. Terry Pastika
Citizen Advocacy Center
Also posted on the Elmhurst Patch at: http://elmhurst.patch.com/groups/opinions/p/cac-asks-elmhurst-mayor-aldermen-to-take-a-very-close-look-at-addison
The League of Women Voters of the LaGrange Area is honoring CAC with a Persons of Impact Award. This award recognizes CAC for encouraging active citizen participation and for working diligently to influence
public policy through education and advocacy to protect the rights of all citizens.
I am proud to accept this award on behalf of the Citizen Advocacy Center. This award belongs to all the people who make up the community we call Citizen Advocacy Center: those who don the hat of active participant or government monitor and seek our assistance, and those who give generously - whether of time,talent, or financial support. Complete details about the event and registration link are below.
About the 2013 Persons of Impact Award
The League of Women Voters of the LaGrange Area is proud to honor two individuals and one non-profit organization who keep alive the legacy of the LWV for Power, Influence and Change in our communities.
Each award recipient has encouraged active citizen participation in representative government and continues to work diligently to influence public policy through education and advocacy to protect the rights of all citizens.
Date: Thursday Sept 12th
Time: 5:30pm - 8:00 pm
Mayslake Peabody Estate
1717 W. 31st St.
Oak Brook, IL 60532
Individual Reservations by August 30th:
$40 per person
Citizen Advocacy Center joined a broad-based, statewide coalition of groups and individuals that announced the formation of Yes for Independent Maps - a nonpartisan campaign to reform Illinois’ legislative redistricting process through a citizen-initiated ballot initiative. Independent Maps is collecting more than 298,000 signatures of registered voters by May 4, 2014 to secure a place on the November 2014 ballot.
Currently, the Yes for Independent Maps coalition includes: Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Chicago; Business and Professional People for the Public Interest; CHANGE Illinois!; Chicago Appleseed; Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights; Citizen Advocacy Center; Illinois Public Interest Research Group; Latino Policy Forum; and Reboot Illinois.
Want to know more:
Huffington Post Chicago article: Fight Illinois corruption: Say Yes to Independent Maps