“Public business is the public’s business.” — Harold Cross, The People’s Right to Know
Public meetings are important spaces for democracy where any resident can participate in civic life and hold government officials accountable. But for meetings to truly be “public,” they must be accessible to attendees and there must be a record of their proceedings.
So how open are your local meetings? The Open Gov Report Card is giving Chicago and Cook County government a grade.
Who’s included in the Open Gov Report Card?
Agencies in the Open Gov Report Card were assessed between January 2018 and September 2019.
To be included in this analysis, the agency must:
- Hold meetings governed by the Open Meetings Act
- Have jurisdiction anywhere in Chicago
- Publicize enough information to be reasonably considered active
Note: Local School Councils are not included because of the prohibitive number of bodies (513) to analyze within this data set.
What are the agencies graded on?
The Open Gov Report Card uses the Open Meetings Act as a benchmark in the majority of its access and transparency criteria.
The Open Meetings Act is a state law that requires meetings of public bodies to be open to the public, with some exceptions related to privacy or sensitive personnel matters. In general, local agencies subject to the OMA must post the time, place and agendas of meetings in advance; they must post minutes (meeting notes) publicly; they must provide an opportunity for members of the public to address officials; and they must allow anyone to record their proceedings.
Of the 11 accessibility criteria listed on each agency’s Report Card, six are related to the Open Meetings Act or refer to opinions by Illinois’ Attorney General and five are best practices for government transparency as determined by City Bureau research. When data is not available, we do not count the category. So an agency who passes 5 of 9 available categories would receive a 55 percent, or an ‘F.’
The grading scale is as follows:
- 90-100 = A
- 80-89 = B
- 70-79 = C
- 60-69 = D
- 59 and below = F
Agencies that have failed any of the 11 criteria are not necessarily in violation of the Open Meetings Act. For example, “reasonable time, place and manner restrictions” may be applied to open meetings but, upon examining the data and academic research, we determined that while there’s no perfect time to hold a meeting, reasonable variation in time and location can make meetings more accessible to members of the public.
We acknowledge that these 11 criteria do not fully capture all transparency guidelines around public meetings. The criteria were chosen based on legal requirements and other standards that should be relatively easy to implement, compared to the amount of impact it would have on attendance and participation. Some issues that are unique to certain agencies could not be standardized across our data.
We also acknowledge that public access to meetings is just one element of government transparency. This report card does not reflect agencies’ adherence to the Freedom of Information Act or other sunshine laws, nor does it rate the ability to communicate directly with officials.
Lastly, not all agencies have posted their public comment policies publicly, which is not illegal, but resulted in missing data. Agencies that wish to submit corrections can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
City Bureau and Documenters.org
This tool was created by City Bureau, a nonprofit, nonpartisan civic journalism lab based on the South Side of Chicago. We bring journalists and communities together in a collaborative spirit to produce media that is impactful, equitable and responsive to the public.
The Open Gov Report Card is the newest tool from our Documenters program, which trains and pays Chicagoans to monitor local government meetings and distribute their findings to the public. Our Documenters.org website is a first-of-its-kind transparency tool that collects all government meeting info (including locations, times, official records and Documenters notes and live-tweet threads) into a searchable database. If you want to hold your public officials accountable, check out Documenters.org and sign up for our next free Documenters training.
Download our data
Have a question? See an issue? Contact us at email@example.com.