FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Maryam Judar
August 24, 2015 Executive Director/Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center (630) 833-4080
ELMHURST - On August 21, civics became law in the Land of Lincoln. A standalone civics semester will be required at all Illinois public high schools starting with the Class of 2020. The Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC) has been a tenacious advocate for bringing back civics to Illinois public schools and played a major role in the strong coalition effort that resulted in this successful outcome.
“Civic education is core to the work of CAC as community lawyers routinely answer basic information about the structure and function of government. In addition, CAC community lawyers have worked with schools for over two decades to help teachers convert classrooms and communities into civic labs,” explained CAC Executive Director Maryam Judar.
CAC’s advocacy efforts for civic education policy reform at the state level include: authoring and suggesting reform recommendations within the Illinois Civic Health Index 2010 that was published by the National Conference on Citizenship and in collaboration with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; writing the “Advocacy and Policy” chapter within the Illinois Civic Blueprint that was published by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; spearheading and advocating within the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition Public Policy Committee; spearheading the creation of the Civic Education Legislative Task Force which was charged with assessing Illinois civic education standards and making reform recommendations; and advocating for hands-on civic education as an appointee to the Task Force.
“On behalf of CAC, I would like to acknowledge the partners and collaborators who played a leading role in the effort to bring civics back to Illinois public high schools,” said Ms. Judar.
DuPage County Regional Superintendent Darlene Ruscitti has been a longtime advocate for civic education through supporting civic efforts throughout DuPage County, including the convening of two county-wide Civic Summits for high school students and advocating for the passage of the “Year of Civic Engagement” Resolution by the DuPage County Board.
Former Attorney General Jim Ryan who established the Center for Civic Leadership at Benedictine University, is a vocal advocate for civic education of youth, and was pivotal in the creation of Illinois’ Legislative Task Force on Civic Education charged with assessing the current state of civics in Illinois.
Shawn Healy, Civic Learning & Engagement Scholar at the McCormick Foundation and Chair of both the Task Force and the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, is a champion for high quality civic education for all Illinois students, the promotion of the Democracy Schools program, and has been indefatigable in his efforts to strengthen civic education.
“There are many additional organizations and people who came together to bring civics back to Illinois. CAC is proud to have worked with many outstanding collaborators and to have played an instrumental role to change the civic landscape that will impact all youth,” said Ms. Judar.
“The commitment of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation was essential to the successful effort of returning civics to all public school students,” said Ms. Judar. “They have been a leader in promoting civic education for years through supporting organizations engaged in civic education. They have taken on a leadership role in advocating for legislative reform and in the implementation of their vision to hurdle financial obstacles through the establishment of a public-private partnership of foundation and corporations that will fund professional development to ensure that civics teachers receive adequate support to teach a high-quality, standalone semester of civics.”
The Citizen Advocacy Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community-based legal nonprofit dedicated to building democracy in the 21st century by strengthening the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. Visit www.CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org for more information.
Download the letter or read below.
Commissioner William Waldack
c/o Village of Downers Grove
801 Burlington Ave
Downers Grove, IL 60515
July 2, 2015
Dear Commissioner Waldack:
This letter responds to concerns you expressed at the June 16, 2015 Downers Grove Village Council Meeting about Citizen Advocacy Center’s comments that had been made at the previous Council Meeting regarding a perceived, potential conflict of interest and the general level of public participation with respect to the Village’s presentation of the Clyde Estates project. You also asked on whose behalf Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC) appeared at the meeting and about the research on which CAC drew conclusions. Your comments and questions provide an opportunity for me to discuss CAC’s mission, as well as our purpose in attending the Council Meeting on June 9, 2015. CAC recognizes that, even though public officials invest substantial time and energy into making informed decisions in the best interest of the community, when issues and decisions are controversial not everyone will be satisfied with the result. The Clyde Estates project certainly seems to be a case in point.
General Information Regarding CAC
CAC was founded in 1994 as a nonpartisan, nonprofit community law office located in Elmhurst. The mission of CAC is to build democracy by strengthening the citizenry’s capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance. CAC community lawyers use civic tools to promote meaningful participation in the democratic process. This strategy includes traditional lawyering, community organizing, public policy research, coalition building, media outreach, leadership development, legal advocacy, civic education, and litigation. CAC has a long history in working with community members and public bodies. We advocate for government decision-making processes where government entities not only comply with minimum legal standards but become models of the democratic process through adopting practices that maximize government transparency, accountability, and accessibility.
Citizen Advocacy Center most often becomes involved with an issue when a concerned citizen, public official, or member of the media contacts our office. CAC answers questions about what the law is in a particular area, what government bodies are required to do to comply with the law, how an individual can participate to improve a government process, and how an individual can advocate for a position using legal and civic tools. Community lawyering assistance is based on government process issues. As such, the word “advocacy” in our name does not refer to advocacy for an individual’s specific issue but rather how to engage in advocacy for one’s cause.
When CAC identifies and seeks to address a systemic issue, we do so through a community lawyer or an intern who is supervised by a community lawyer. CAC has a highly regarded internship program that since 1994 has hosted over 200 students, the majority of them law students. The internship program offers a unique opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience in understanding how government operates.
CAC Issues of Concern Raised in Downers Grove
CAC was contacted by a Downers Grove resident who raised concerns about disclosures of potential conflicts of interest and about the significance of resident input for the Clyde Estates Project. After reviewing available information and documents with respect to the questions brought to our attention, CAC identified some ways in which we believe democratic practices could be improved.
With respect to the conflict of interest issue, CAC conducted research, reviewed publicly available materials, materials made available through the FOIA process, and spoke with concerned residents. CAC concluded that a conflict of interest was not present. However, considering the controversial nature of the project it was understandable how there could be a perceived conflict of interest among the general public. CAC identified specific procedures that could be adopted to increase standards. CAC recognizes that it is your viewpoint that clear disclosures were made to the Village Staff and members of the Council members during the planning phase. CAC, however, addressed the issue of what processes are in place to ensure that the disclosures are also clear to members of the public seeking to educate themselves on proposed projects. Working toward our mission to address systemic issues of concern related to the democratic process, CAC commented on how to address perceived, potential conflicts of interest at the June 9, 2015 meeting. While the comments were in reference to the Clyde Estate project, the adoption of higher standards would apply to all proposed projects in Downers Grove to avoid similar concerns in the future.
With respect to the public engagement piece, after speaking with concerned citizens about the meetings that took place, reviewing documents, and having a CAC community lawyer observe the Council’s interaction and response to the public, CAC concluded that while the process may have been quite extensive and certainly complied with the law, still more could have been done to engage the citizens and give them a voice in the project. As such, the public comment made by a CAC community lawyer regarding a “no” vote was not a commentary on the substantive project but rather a commentary that the Village Council should withhold approving the project until a higher standard of public engagement had been met. While CAC recognizes that not everyone could be completely satisfied with the outcome of such a controversial project, we advocate for the most transparent, accessible, and interactive process that is possible.
I welcome this opportunity to discuss how Downers Grove may increase democratic protocols to become a model of government transparency, accountability, and accessibility. If you think that an additional discussion could be helpful, I would be happy to meet with you.
Please accept my personal invitation to you and all the Commissioners to join us on July 28, at 7 p.m. at the CAC office located at 182 N. York Street in Elmhurst for Intern Democracy Night, where current students will be sharing their internship experiences.
Executive Director/Community Lawyer
cc: Mayor Martin Tully, Commissioner Bob Barnett, Commissioner David Olsen, Commissioner Greg Hosé, Commissioner Gina Vattimo, Commissioner Bill White
For more information, contact
Maryam Judar, executive director Citizen Advocacy Center
(630) 833-4083 (office)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – STALE AFTER THURSDAY, 5 FEBRUARY 2015
Last Call for School, Local Candidates is ThursdayMany Seats Still Available
No candidates have filed for 5% of the seats on city councils, village, school, park, library, and fire boards in DuPage County, and for another 58% of those seats, there are candidates with no opposition, but there is still time to register as a write-in candidate, says the Citizen Advocacy Center.
“Under Illinois law, any write-in votes cast in the April 7 election are ignored unless the candidate has first registered as a write-in candidate for that office,” said Maryam Judar, executive director of the non-profit civic group that assists citizens in dealing with local government. “The deadline is this Thursday,” she added.
To register as a write-in candidate, a form available at the DuPage Election Commission, 421 County Farm Rd. in Wheaton must be filed with that office before 4:30 p.m. on February 5.
Prospective write-in candidates are welcome to contact the Citizen Advocacy Center at (630) 833-4083) for more information.
Write-ins can register until Thursday February 5 for any office on the ballot, whether there are already filed candidates or not.
No Candidates At All
These offices have at least one seat open but no filed candidates running for it, so the winner will be someone who has filed as a write-in candidate:
Board of Education Member
Fenton HS-100, Westmont U-201, Bensonville G-2, Roselle G-12 (2 openings), Bloomingdale G-13, Winfield G-34.
Clarendon Hills (2 openings), Fountaindale, Indian Prairie, Lisle (2 openings), Poplar Creek, Roselle, Winfield (2 openings).
Park District Commissioner
Hanover Park, Pick Subdivision, Wheaton.
Candidates with No Opposition
These city, village, and other offices have some candidates with no competition, but write-in candidates can still register until Thursday February 5.
City Mayor / Village President
Carol Stream, Clarendon Hills, Wayne, Wheaton, Wood Dale.
City or Village Clerk
Clarendon Hills, Darien, Oak Brook, Wood Dale.
Darien, Wood Dale.
City Alderman / Village Trustee
Addison, Aurora, Bloomingdale, Carol Stream, Darien, Elmhurst, Glendale Heights, Hanover Park, Hinsdale, Itasca, Lemont, Lombard, Oakbrook Terrace, Roselle, St. Charles, Warrenville, Wayne, West Chicago, Westmont, Willowbrook, Wood Dale.
Board of Education Member
U-201, U-203, HS-94, HS-100, HS-210, G-2, G-4, G-7, G-12, G-13, G-15, G-16, G-20, G-33, G-34, G-48, G-53, G-58, G-61, G-62, G-63, G-66, G-89, G-93, G-180.
Bloomingdale, Brookeridge, Burr Ridge, Butterfield, Carol Stream, Darien, Downers Grove, Glen Elley Countryside, Golfview Hills, Itasca, Lemont, Lisle, Lombard, Medinah, Oakbrook Terrace, Roselle, Tri-State, Wards Creek, Warrenville, Winfield, Wood Dale, York Center.
Addision, Bartlett, Bensenville, Bloomingdale, Glen Ellyn, Glenside, Hinsdale, Itasca, Lemont, Villa Park, Warrenville, West Chicago, Westmont, Woodridge, Wood Dale.
Fire District Trustee
Addison, Bartlett, Bloomingdale, Carol Stream, Darien-Woodridge, Glenside, Itasca, Lemont, Pleasantview, Tri-State, Wood Dale.
CAC joins with like-minded individuals and organizations in filing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of ARIZONA STATE LEGISLATURE, Appellant, v. ARIZONA INDEPENDENT REDISTRICTING COMMISSION, ET AL., Appellees. in efforts to preserve independent state redistricting committees.
Read the brief here.
LOCAL CITIZENS RECEIVE CITIZEN INITIATIVE AWARD FROM CAC
FOR COMMUNITY ACTIVISM AND BEING CATALYSTS FOR DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION
ELMHURST – On December 9, 2014 Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC) will recognize its 2014 Citizen Initiative Award recipients. CAC created the Citizen Initiative Awards in 1997 to recognize local community activists who are catalysts for democratic participation and have used civic, legal, and community organizing tools to advocate for a self-identified issue of public concern. “Those honored by CAC are dynamic in that they have identified a local issue of public concern and have taken action to organize community initiatives, advocate for greater accountability of public bodies, and make a difference in the communities in which they live. Often times these individuals are criticized by government officials as ‘troublemakers’, ‘agitators’, ‘uninformed’, and more. CAC identifies these individuals as inspirational because they embody what it means to live in a participatory democracy, and their dedication to addressing a community issue is strong, even in the face of adversity,” said Ms. Maryam Judar, CAC’s Executive Director.
The presentation ceremony will be held at 7:00 p.m. on December 9, 2014 at Cafe Amano, 116 E. Schiller St. in Elmhurst. It is open to the public and free of charge with a $10 suggested donation. Those interested in attending can call CAC at 630-833-4080 or email CAC@CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org to reserve a space.
The 2014 Citizen Initiative Award Recipients are:
• Batavia Rate Payers for Fair Electricity, Batavia (Kane County). Batavia Rate Payers for Fair Electricity (BRPFE) is being recognized for their outstanding efforts to hold the City of Batavia accountable for fiscal concerns related to a Power Sales Agreement with the Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency for electricity from the Prairie State Energy Campus (PSEC). Residents' questions went unanswered as to what exact information was provided to the city that lead them to believe the Agreement would protect rate payers from volatile energy prices but instead resulted in soaring construction costs, increased debt, and unstable electric wholesale costs. Utilizing FOIA, BRPFE spent countless hours reviewing copious documents that generated many questions including those about the consultant's role in the decision-making process, a last minute change in deadline for final commitment to the project, and the impact of coal quality on the investment. BRPFE organized residents, collected over 1,000 petition signatures, and presented the petition to Batavia City Council calling for an investigation into the city’s power provider and demanding increased transparency around contractual terms. The City of Batavia responded by officially requesting the Attorney General (Consumer Protection Division) to investigate the contract to verify terms and disclosure fair to consumers.
• Joan Metz, Indian Head Park (Cook County). Ms. Metz is being recognized for her outstanding efforts in monitoring the Village of Indian Head Park and thereby bringing greater accountability to Village Board actions. Ms. Metz attends Village Board meetings and wrote a blog that comprehensively reviewed public comments made at the Village Board, the details of which were often omitted from Village Board’s meeting minutes. When the Village Board failed to televise meetings, Ms. Metz videotaped meetings and posted them to her blog and YouTube Channel. At first, the Village Board attempted to implement barriers to Ms. Metz tapings but then the Village began televising meetings itself. Ms. Metz also monitored the Village’s finances and questioned expenditures, such as a policy allowing the Village President to receive a salary for acting as the Liquor Commissioner and a supplemental healthcare policy that allowed for expense reimbursements in excess of $60,000. After Ms. Metz questioned the reasoning and fiscal impact of the benefits and salary, the Board voted to eliminate both after the next election. Ms. Metz’s continues to commendably monitor her local government.
• Park Truth, Plainfield (Will County). Park Truth is being recognized for their outstanding efforts in organizing community members to monitor Plainfield Township Park District by attending public meetings and questioning the stringing of contracts, hiring and contracting nepotism, expenditures that should have required Board approval, and qualifications of the newly hired Executive Director. They also addressed attempts to deter and squash public participation that included board members unabashedly playing tic-tac-toe during public comment, passing a public comment policy that limited First Amendment rights, and the removal of residents by police escort. Park Truth members also utilized FOIA to obtain information. When they disputed the Park District’s response, they turned to the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor’s (PAC) , for which the Park District website described the citizens as “a small group of radicals” who use the PAC review process to “possibly harass the Plainfield Park District Board for its decisions.” Park Truth used the information gathered and published and shared the information with the community so that they were made aware of the actions of the Board. During the time Park Truth engaged in their undeterred advocacy, the Executive Director resigned, offensive comments about the citizens were removed, the Board began investigating expenditures, and more. Park Truth’s continued advocacy and outreach also led to limited but groundbreaking legislation passed by the Illinois State Legislature that increased the Board size by two members to reduce the opportunity for a smaller majority to poorly dictate public policy.
• Gerri Songer, Hawthorn Woods (Lake County). Ms. Songer is being recognized for her tenacity in standing up to her Village Board about her right to seek documents and give public comment. She began attending Village meetings after seeing an increased presence of trains at all hours of the day and questioned what they were carrying. Through public records, she learned the trains were transporting toxic, hazardous, and explosive substances and her research showed that several of trains have met with accident and created hazardous runoff. Ms. Songer tried to address her public safety concerns to her Village Board. During her polite if forceful public comment, the Board had police removed Ms. Songer from the meeting. Ms. Songer was undeterred from attending subsequent meetings, asserting her rights, and continuing to speak out. Ms. Songer is also an educator and her experiences in civic participation have inspired her to teach high school students how to become participants in their democracy. Ms. Songer started the extracurricular “Students4Democracy” at Elk Grove High School, where she teaches. She has integrated into the curriculum how to utilize public participation tools like FOIA and the right to speak at open meetings of public bodies. Many of these students are first generation Americans and have not previously been exposed to democracy participation.
The Citizen Advocacy Center is a 501(c) (3), non-profit, non-partisan, community-based legal organization with a mission to build democracy for the 21st century. Recognition by CAC is not in any way an endorsement of any individual who is or may become a candidate for public office. Founded in 1994, CAC strengthens the citizenry’s capacities, institutions, and resources for self-governance. For more information about CAC or to make a contribution, visit us at www.CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org.
For more information: Maryam Judar, Executive Director, Citizen Advocacy Center (630) 833-4080
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Politician's Suit Against Newspaper Thrown Out;