August 12, 2010
At a Cook County Board of Commissioners meeting, held on June 15, 2010, Cook County Commissioner Joseph Moreno called on County staff members to explain a series of errors in the meeting’s agenda, noting a lengthy list of deletions, insertions and corrections to what should have been the final agenda.
During the discussion that ensued, Commissioners revealed their dissatisfaction with the frequent alterations to the agenda and numerous errors in the matters taken up at board meetings. In response to this situation, Commissioners asked that County staff vet agendas more thoroughly before submitting them to the board and public. They further urged staff to hold items submitted past deadlines for discussion at the next scheduled meeting, thereby reducing the number of last minute changes to the agenda. Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman said multiple agenda errors and new agenda items result in unnecessary confusion, making issues unfairly opaque for the public.
The Civic Federation shares the Commissioners’ concerns. Recently, Federation staff has noted that agenda items are not consistently posted online in a timely manner and are not always available before meetings when requested from a member of the Secretary of Board’s staff. For example, on May 14, 2010, some updated agenda items were sent out via email during the board meeting and after the meeting had adjourned. Also, Federation staff noted that for the board meeting held on June 15th the final agenda was not made available to the public by the Secretary of Board prior to the start of the meeting. For members of the public in attendance at these meetings, the lack of complete and accurate agenda information poses a challenge when trying to understand the exact nature of the issues being discussed by Commissioners.
In response to this situation, at their July 13, 2010 meeting the Board formally introduced an ordinance that calls for holding late items for discussion at the next meeting. This ordinance was referred to the Rules Committee for further discussion.
The Civic Federation supports this important first step in addressing this transparency issue. In a recent blog post the Civic Federation explained the basic provisions of the Illinois Open Meetings Act, including the requirement for an agenda to be posted 48 hours in advance of each meeting. While new, or late, items are not required to be posted 48 hours in advance, the public body may not vote on a new agenda item if it fails to meet the 48 hour notice requirement.
The proposed ordinance will help the Cook County Board of Commissioners better comply with the spirit of the Open Meetings Act and allow meeting attendees to better understand the Cook County board meeting proceedings.