Executive Director Maryam Judar will present a national live webinar on Open Meetings Laws for Lorman, provider of continuing legal education, titled "How "Open" are Open Meetings Laws?"
CAC friends and colleagues receive a special offer of 50% off when they use codes [Priority code 15999 and Discount Code 18780069] provided in this informative brochure.
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 IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 2, 2015
Contact: Maryam Judar
Executive Director/Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center (630) 833-4080
ILLINOIS GENERAL ASSEMBLY PASSES BILL REQUIRING CIVIC EDUCATION
AS A HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION REQUIREMENT; HEADS TO THE GOVERNOR
ELMHURST – On May 30, House Bill 4025, a bill mandating civic education in Illinois as a high school requirement has passed through the General Assembly and now heads to the Governor. Illinois is currently one of only 10 states in the nation that does not require civic education. At a time when bipartisan divisions run deep in the General Assembly, the civic education bill sponsored by Representative Conroy (D-Villa Park) in the House and Senator Cullerton (D-Villa Park) in the Senate, passed with strong bipartisan support. In addition, the Citizen Advocacy Center played a major role in the strong coalition effort that successfully generated public awareness for how required civic education could change the civic landscape in Illinois.
“Our state needs well-prepared students who have the ability to tackle tough issues impacting their communities and Illinois. A semester of civics will provide students with the knowledge of how government works and how to impact government decision-making on issues they care about,” said Maryam Judar, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center.
The legislation is supported by funding through a public-private partnership led by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation to provide high-quality, school-based civic learning opportunities for all students in Illinois. Over three million dollars have been pledged over the next three years to provide history teachers with professional development in civic education.
HB 4025 is based on recommendations of the General Assembly’s Task Force on Civic Education, of which Ms. Judar was an appointed member. In 2014, the Task Force recommended that Illinois require a stand-alone civic education course in high school after analyzing the current state of civic education in Illinois; civic education laws in other jurisdictions with mandated civic education; and best practices in civic education in other jurisdictions. The primary goal of requiring civic education is to increase civic literacy by increasing the capacity of youth to learn the knowledge, skills, and practices necessary to become civically informed and engaged.
Hundreds of people testified in favor of civic education when the Task Force held multiple public hearings throughout Illinois. Additional Task Force recommendations include: revision of Illinois Social Studies Standards, which is currently underway; a required civic service learning project in middle and high school; access to professional development aligned to best practices; and involvement by students in the election process.
The Citizen Advocacy Center is a non-profit, non-partisan 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.
Based on the recommendations of the Illinois Task Force on Civic Education, Representative Deb Conroy introduced two new bills in the Illinois House to strengthen civic education in Illinois on Friday February 27, 2015. When introducing the legislation, Rep. Conroy said: "Many students graduate without even basic knowledge of current events and how to become active members of their communities."
About the Illinois Task Force on Civic Education
MEDIA ADVISORY – Press Conference
Good Government Advocates Urge Illinois General Assembly to Forego Override of IL Freedom of Information Act Strong - Governor Quinn Vetoes Bill on Friday June 27th, the same day it reaches his desk.
What: Press conference convened by Citizen Advocacy Center of good government groups calling on the Illinois General Assembly to forego a veto of HB 3796 that amends the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and weakens FOIA’s intent to ensure necessary access to public records so that the public can effectively monitor government bodies to keep them accountable.
HB 3796 creates a new category within the FOIA that can designate a request “voluminous” based on how much information is requested within one FOIA request. The bill also implements a new fee structure that allows public bodies to charge as much as $100 for electronic data and allows public bodies to not respond to FOIA requests under certain circumstances. For more information regarding HB3796 visit www.CitizenAdvocacyCenter.org
Citizen Advocacy Center, Maryam Judar
Illinois PIRG, Abe Scarr
Better Government Association, Andy Shaw
Illinois Policy Institute, Brian Costin
Citizen Watchdog and Frequent FOIA Requester – Dr. Tamara Brenner
In addition to the organizations presenting, this effort is also endorsed by Chicago Headline Club, ACLU of Illinois, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, and Dick Simpson, UIC Political Science Professor and Former Chicago Alderman.
When: Monday, June 30th at 10:30 a.m.
Where: Illinois State Building (Thompson Center)
15th Floor, Blue Room
100 W. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60601
Go through security on first floor; then take elevator to 15th floor
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Citizen Advocacy Center is a non-profit, non-partisan free community legal organization dedicated to building democracy for the 21st century by strengthening the citizenry's capacities, resources, and institutions for self-governance.
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
Tuesday, November 12th at 7 pm.
City of Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S Eagle St
Doors open at 6:45. Event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited.
How does education funding in Illinois affect the quality of education your child receives?
How does it affect all children and the future competitiveness of our state?
Critical education-related topics will be discussed during a lively and informative roundtable discussion featuring these distinguished panelists:
Center in Elmhurst, will moderate.