March 31, 2011
In its first hundred years of existence from 1894 to 1994, the Civic Federation had a direct hand in reforming governments across Illinois. The following is a selection of some of these reforms.
- The Civic Federation proposed structural reforms of the Chicago Park District to increase efficiency of its operations in a 1993 comprehensive analysis of the District’s form and function. Many of these recommendations were adopted by the Park District in a major mid-1990s reorganization effort
- In 1979 the Federation proposed creation of the School Finance Authority to help the Chicago Public Schools resolve a fiscal crisis that left the system in need of a financial bailout and unable to pay its employees. Created by the Illinois General Assembly in 1980, the School Finance Authority oversaw the CPS’ finances and approved its budgets, made labor contract recommendations, and worked with the CPS Board to secure funding.
- In 1958 following the Civic Federation’s recommendation, Cook County implemented a property parcel numbering system, which helped determine the tax status of a parcel and facilitated the collection of property taxes. This new system supplanted the older method of organizing the million-plus properties in the County according to townships and subdivisions.
- In 1934 the Civic Federation realized one of the goals from its charter plan: to unite and consolidate the individual Chicago park districts. Up to this time, Chicago parks were governed by 22 districts, each with its own board of commissioners. While a measure to unite the parks failed in 1916, a later effort assisted by then-governor Henry Horner was put to vote in the April 1934 primary election where it found overwhelming support from the public.
- As far back as 1915, the Civic Federation worked to reform public employee pension funds. The Federation supported the creation of the Illinois Pension Laws Commission and encouraged public employees across the State to follow the recommendations of the commission. After the collapse of the Chicago firefighter pension in 1929, the fire union pursued two different unsound pension schemes that the Federation actively fought through a public relations campaign. Additionally, when the retired Chicago policemen’s union pushed to increase funding of its pension above that ordered by law, the Civic Federation took the union to the Illinois Supreme Court, where the court found that such increases jeopardized the interests of active employees, were contrary to public policy, and contravened constitutional provisions.
- Working with other city agencies, the Civic Federation in 1913 and 1915 sponsored legislation to create an adult probation program that would give some adult first offenders the opportunity to avoid incarceration with prisoners with lengthier records. The Federation at this time also persuaded the Illinois General Assembly to strengthen parole laws and provide stricter supervision of parolees.
- In 1909 the Civic Federation persuaded the Illinois state legislature to pass a law authorizing the governor to appoint an Illinois Special Tax Commission that would make recommendations and suggest changes to the Illinois revenue system. This initiative grew out of a need to reform a convoluted tax assessment system that was unable to cope with the taxation demands of rapidly-growing Chicago.
- In 1903, three years before Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was published, the Civic Federation organized an investigation of meat and milk inspection within the city limits, finding great laxity among inspectors. This effort expanded with the creation of a health and sanitation committee that published bacterial analyses of hundreds of samples of market milk from twenty-three of Chicago’s poorest wards.