March 3, 2010
The Civic Federation and the Friends of the Forest Preserves believe that the current governance structure of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County needs reform because it is impossible for one commissioner to fulfill the two diametrically opposed duties of economic development and land preservation. Currently the Cook County Board of Commissioners serves double duty as Forest Preserve District Commissioners, but there is legislation introduced in the Illinois General Assembly to create a separate board of commissioners for the forest preserve district.
It is important to note that the plan to create a separate board does not also create a separate unit of government. The forest preserve district is already a separate unit of government with its own taxing authority, staff and headquarters. Other Illinois counties have recognized the same inherent conflict of interest and successfully created separate forest preserve district boards, including neighboring DuPage County.
Creating a separate board for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County requires enabling legislation to be passed by the Illinois General Assembly. In the past month there have been two notable developments on this front.
The Counties and Townships Committee of the Illinois House met to discuss Illinois House Bill 5128 on February 11, 2010. This bill was approved by the members and placed on the calendar for a second reading before the House. Since passing out of committee, five additional sponsors have signed on, giving the bill bipartisan support.
Illinois Senate Bill 176, which was filed in January of 2009, is the companion bill for HB5128. This bill passed out of committee on March 11, 2009 and was placed on the calendar for a third reading before the Senate on February 16, 2010.
The Civic Federation would like to thank Illinois Senator Don Harmon and Representative Elaine Nekritz for introducing each piece of legislation. The Federation would also like to commend the legislators who signed on to co-sponsor the pieces of legislation, including Representatives John Fritchey, Harry Osterman, Elizabeth Coulson, Paul Froehlich, Kay Hatcher, Sidney Mathias and Michael Zalewski, as well as Senators Michael Noland, Jeffrey Schoenberg, Dan Kotowski and Susan Garrett.
The Friends of the Forest Preserves has a webpage dedicated to this issue that urges citizens to contact their representatives and recommend their support of either HB5128 or SB176. For more information about the need for a separate board, please read our report and check out the Friends of the Forest Preserve website for ongoing updates.
For more information about other items on the Civic Federation’s entire legislative agenda, please click here to find a detailed listing of the all of the measures we support for the current legislative cycle.