February 2, 2017
The Cook County Board of Commissioners has reorganized its board meeting proceedings in an effort to streamline board meetings. Beginning in January 2017, the Consent Calendar portion of the meeting is now held on the second Tuesday of each month rather than the second Wednesday when County Board meetings are generally held. The change is intended to reduce excessively long meetings.
The Consent Calendar is a compilation of resolutions concerning deaths, anniversaries and congratulations for notable achievements. It often lasts more than an hour. Typically each resolution is read aloud for the meeting record, then Commissioners and honorees are given the opportunity to say a few words, followed by photographs of honorees and guests.
County board meeting days are already filled with large agendas and multiple committee meetings. Committee meetings are typically scheduled in the morning before the Board of Commissioners meeting, which is scheduled to start at 11:00 a.m. However, they often run well past that hour.
Prior to the change in board meeting procedures, the order of business for board meetings was typically to hear public testimony first, followed by the Consent Calendar agenda items, new business and committee items requiring board action. It was not uncommon for the Board to take the Consent Calendar out of the regular order of business and to hear the Consent Calendar resolutions first. As a result, those attending the meeting to provide public comments would sometimes have to wait until long after 11:00 a.m. before the Board reached the public testimony portion of the meeting. On days when the Board votes on controversial agenda items, several hours of public testimony and discussion among Commissioners of the items at hand could push the meeting into the late hours of the afternoon.
Concerns about the meeting process had been noted by groups including the League of Women Voters and by several Cook County Commissioners, who suggested moving the Consent Calendar to a separate date and time.
During summer 2016 Commissioner Larry Suffredin and Commissioner John Daley introduced an ordinance to remove the Consent Calendar from regular board meetings and hold a separate Consent Calendar meeting. The Board of Commissioners approved the ordinance at the November 16, 2016 meeting, creating a standing monthly meeting for the Consent Calendar at 9:00 a.m. on the same day as the Forest Preserve District Board meetings when they fall on the day preceding the County board meetings, which is typically the second Tuesday of the month.
Notably, the Forest Preserve District and Cook County share a Board of Commissioners. The shared board structure makes the Forest Preserve District’s board meeting dates the optimal dates to hold the Consent Calendar meeting given the fact that the board members will already be there for the 11:00 a.m. Forest Preserve District meetings. Cook County’s 2017 meeting proceeding guidelines require that a quorum, or at least half of the 17 commissioners, be present in order to hold the Consent Calendar meeting.
The Civic Federation applauds the County’s procedural change because it both guarantees that resolutions for those being honored will be heard at the designated start time and makes the County’s already busy meetings more efficient. As a large government with a $4.4 billion operating budget in FY2017, twelve large administrative departments and the charge of running a criminal justice system and a hospital system, Cook County has a large amount of business to cover during its board meetings. We believe that this is an appropriate action for a large government like Cook County.
The Federation will continue to monitor the Cook County and Forest Preserve District meetings and evaluate the effectiveness of the change in meeting procedures.
 Discussion of moving the Consent Calendar took place at several Board meetings and committee meetings. For example, see videos of the Board of Commissioners meeting held on July 13, 2016 and the Rules and Administration Committee meetings held on October 5, 2016 and November 16, 2016 available at https://cook-county.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx. Coverage of this issue is also available at the Daily Line. Note that the Daily Line is a subscription news service.