Making Democracy Work

Observer Corps

Observing Government Meetings

Members of the League of Women Voters of Chicago occasionally observe meetings held by governmental bodies. We are not able to attend all meetings, but choose some according to our members' schedules. The following information contains reports of some of the decisions or discussions that the observer thinks might be of interest to others. No attempt is made to include all that transpired, and the selection of what to report is subjective.

Board of Elections

Chicago Board of Elections Website: Meeting videos and minutes are available:

Observer report by Helene Gabelnick

Meeting of March 28, 2017

"Housekeeping" activities at the Board are continuing during this time between elections.

The Board's attorney noted several election related bills in the Illinois House. LWVChicago will comment on HB 512 concerning referenda on the ballot. A statement about labeling referenda on the ballot as to their status as Advisory or Binding was given to the Board on January 12.

There will be another exhibit of new election equipment on April 13 beginning at 9 am. Each of the six vendors will give a 30-minute presentation followed by 30 minutes allotted for questions from attendees.

It will be held at 69 W Washington.

Meeting of March 21, 2017

The Chicago Board of Elections approved and adopted the results of the February 28 General Municipal Election for Alderman of the 4th Ward.

This was the only election in Chicago on that day. The turnout was 18.7% and Alderman Sophia King was reelected with 63.6% of the vote.

Helene Gabelnick, Susan Garza and Jeanne Mayer attended the election equipment exhibit on February 14. There were 5 vendors showing their voting equipment.

Meeting of February 17, 2017

The Chicago Board of Elections elected its officers for the next year. Chair: Marisol Hernandez, and Secretary: William Kresse. The Board also adopted the bylaws. There were no changes to the current bylaws.

There will be another election equipment exhibit in March. The Board will be preparing a Request for Proposal. If possible the new equipment would be procured for use in the March 2018 Primary Election.

The Executive Director reported on conversations with the Post Office to address postmark problems with Vote by Mail ballots. There was a 70% return rate for these ballots in the November 8 election.

Early voting has begun for the 4th Ward Aldermanic Election. There have been security cameras installed in the areas of 69 W Washington where voting occurs.

Meeting of January 24, 2017

The Executive Director reported that preparations for the February 28 4th Ward Aldermanic Election are proceeding well.

There will be a voting equipment "Expo" on February 14. Providers have been asked to show the latest in equipment. The Board will collect feedback from those attending. The Board recognizes the need to replace current equipment and this is the first step.

Helene Gabelnick, on behalf of LWVChicago presented the following statement about possible legislation to be considered in the Board's Legislative Program:

Commissioners and Executive Director,

As you develop your 2017 Legislative Program LWVChicago recommends that you pursue state election legislation that would require that all referenda on the ballot include information indicating whether each referendum is binding or non-binding (advisory).
We feel that it is important for voters to understand the consequences of their vote on referenda. This information should be included on the Board's web site and in voter education materials prepared for the election.
LWV Cook County has also made a similar recommendation to the Cook County Clerk's Election division.

City Council

Chicago City Council, December 14, 2016

Observer Notes by Rochelle Riffer

Items taken up by the City Council on December 14, 2016 include:

Airbnb. After a lawsuit filed by some homeowners, the implementation of rules regulating Airbnb rentals in Chicago will be delayed until February. This will allow the City to tweak some of the rules, particularly the requirement that a host sign a statement that they "understand" the ordinance and keep records of rentals for three years.

Tobacco. Aldermen approved a partial rollback of a 2013 ordinance. Menthol cigarettes, candy flavored cigars and other similar tobacco products will now be allowed within 500 feet of grade schools. The minimum age to buy tobacco products remains 21 years old. The vote was 31-14. Aldermen supporting the modification asserted this was a compromise to help small businesses who felt their trade suffered in the original provision. They argued that grade school students would not be mistaken for 21 year olds. The ban on flavored tobacco sales near high schools will remain in place. Opponent Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) said "I think our goal should be to keep cigarettes as far away from children as possible."

Legal Fund. Mayor Emanuel's plan to set up a $1.3 million legal fund to aid immigrants facing deportation was approved. The money comes from unclaimed funds set aside for the property tax rebate. Three aldermen voted against the plan. Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41) preferred the City expand the property tax rebate program, saying "But we're taking money from taxpayers."

Settlements. $9 million in settlements were approved for two police shooting lawsuits and another lawsuit filed by a group of women claiming discrimination in the Fire Department's hiring requirements for physical strength tests.

Alderman Indicted. Ald. Willie Cochran (20) was indicted by the U.S. Attorney on charges of wire fraud, extortion and bribery. The charges included theft of thousands of dollars intended for a ward charity that Cochran allegedly used for gambling and a daughter's college tuition. Ald. Cochran sat in his seat at the City Council meeting as news of the indictment came out. As many aldermen were speaking to congratulate the champion Chicago Cubs he remained in the chamber. After approximately one hour Ald. Cochran exited, followed by reporters. The Alderman said he had no comment on the indictment.

Board of Education

Chicago Board of Education Meeting, March 22, 2017

Rae Sokolow Observer

6 members present 1 absent (Gail Ward)

A notice was presented that $1.8 million was taken from alternative programs and at risk students. This was just on the screen before the meeting.

The meeting began with honors of excellence: Uno Soccer School Mariachi Band has won awards, Richard's Career Academy students won first place in the Healthier Schools Campaign, and student athletes were recognized, Orr High School, Morgan Park, and Whitney Young's basketball teams won first place in the state.

Forest Claypool, CEO, spoke about fake news Governor Rauner has been spreading. Rauner blames the city for problems at CPS. He is not holding school funding for the rest of the state. According to Claypool Illinois has a second-class system of funding Chicago education.

The civil rights lawsuit is going forward for funding injustice. CPS has asked for quick relief and an accelerated schedule. There is a hearing scheduled for April 19 and the city is asking for relief before May 1st. CPS would receive $500 million more if they are successful.

Janice Jackson stated that there are successes in the city schools which have not been told across the country. The University of Chicago is now offering a full scholarship to educators' children who are accepted into the University. They already do this for children of police and fire officers. There are teacher vacancies in math, special education and bilingual education.

Mike Benson from CTU spoke to several issues the heart of which is revenue. The union is looking for a progressive tax system. The city can't keep taxing the poor. There are some bills in the legislature to increase revenue such as taxing hedge funds, using TIF funds and transparency. He asked that the board and union go to Springfield together.

Various people spoke on overcrowding, budget cuts, and equal funding for the schools.

Chicago Board of Education Meeting January 25, 2017

Report by Jill Althage, substitute observer

Forrest Claypool, CEO, reported on Governor Rauner's veto of $215 million to support Chicago Public Schools. This is especially bitter as he increases support of the suburban and downstate schools to the tune of $4 billion. Claypool spoke on the proposal to improve facilities with Integrated Facilities Management (IFM). He turned the details over to Mr. Acosta who presented the history of problems CPS has had with cleaning and facility management. The pilot has shown improvement in communication, supervision, training, and cost saving. The plan is to incorporate this service in July 2018.

Janice Jackson, Chief Education Officer presented the following developments:

A. Common Application, a new tool to facilitate the transition from 8th to 9th grade. In the past, this process has been too complicated. With this tool, we will be able to see where the students are applying and can match and fit the data. This will ultimately ensure that students are ending up in the right high school to realize their potential. The Chicago Community Trust organization is a partner in this project.

B.The transition to the SAT test from the ACT will be used for the first time on April 5. The Office of Teaching and Learning has been working with high school principals, teachers and counselors to prepare for the new assessment and to work with curriculum fit. Growth metrics will be added back to high schools for each school's quality rating. They will look at how students' achievement has grown over the past 3 years.

C.Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools has recently opened a site on the Northwestern campus. They are committed to helping CPS focus on neighborhood schools. This example of relationships with local universities will hopefully be replicated.

In the finance update, there has been improvement since 2015 when the deficit grew. In 2017 the Board sees the possibility of achieving a balanced budget even with the $215 million hole. For this to happen, there must be more grants and revenues and expense controls have to be tightened . Michael Brunson, from the Chicago Teachers Union, spoke against the furlough days and asked that the time be restored to provide for necessary planning. He announced that the Board would receive a proposal for Sanctuary Schools.

Bill Iacullo. President of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 143 presented the negative aspects of the IFM contract. He stated that the pilot started with 87 schools and the positive results were based on only 17 schools where principals replied. There has been no cost analysis survey. There is no transparency. He believed that Mr. Claypool and the Mayor have already made the decision and have sent out notices. They have made the decision to privatize without discussion. He implored the Board vote no or at least to table their decision.

Troy La Raviere also spoke of the history of when Chicago public school engineers were privatized before. It resulted in poor performance. He worried that there will be fewer engineers spread over several schools. Then he went to the topic of charter schools. He had three concerns: standards are different between CPS and charter schools; charter schools expel students 251 times the CPS average; and when a student gets expelled, the money doesn't follow back to the CPS school. He mentioned that is known as the 20th day purge--when funding gets set and the school population is determined, there are massive expulsions. Chicago public schools must take in these expelled students without funding.

Many students, parents, and teachers spoke about the conditions of their schools. Some schools are so crowded that classes meet in the gymnasium while physical education classes are in session. Other schools suffer from unrepaired plumbing and the smell is frightful.

Jennie Biggs of Raise Your Hand spoke against the contract with IFM because it would cost more money and engineers would be forced work in more buildings.

This time there were fewer parents and students talking in favor of charter schools. More were hoping that necessary buildings would be built to address the poor building quality and overcrowding.

A woman from the Chicago Teachers Union spoke in favor of sanctuary schools and the need to eliminate the gang database. She worried about how students are placed in the gang database. There is a danger of their deportation.

Next Board of Education Meeting is Wednesday, February 22 in the Loop at 10:30. Registration opens on February 17 at 10:30.

Guidelines for Observers

Be sure to wear a LWV button. A written report should be sent to the League office and will be posted on our website (see form on last page). Attending a meeting with several other Leaguers can be advantageous, making our presence known and noticeable.

Chicago City Council

Chicago City Council meetings are open to the public. Meetings typically begin at 10 a.m. in the Council Chambers located on the second floor at City Hall. The first hour usually is spent honoring various employees and members of the public. It might be worthwhile to view a City Council meeting on line to get a feel for how things are done. View the calendar at

The public also is invited to committee meetings. The schedules are also listed on the online calendar. These can prove to be of interest because that's where the actual business is done. Committee meetings often have few public attendees.

Live Stream Video: For each City Council meeting, the Office of the City Clerk provides live streaming video, including captions, on our Council News Central page. To watch live click here.

For more information on attending a Chicago City Council meeting, or to reserve seating, contact the Chicago City Council Sergeant-at-Arms at 312-744-6800 or via email at Many organizations reserve blocks of seat in advance, and at times all seats will be reserved. Additional seating is available in the balcony, which is not optimal for viewing. If more than one person is going, it might be worthwhile to reserve seats in the name of LWV Chicago. You must have a seat; they do not allow standing.

Questions? Contact Rochelle Riffer, .

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

MWRD General Meetings usually are held at 10:30 a.m. at 100 E. Erie on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Schedule could change during the summer.

You will need to show ID and sign in, and go through security before entering. They offer an agenda - short and long forms.  Take the long form. Go online at and print out the names of the commissioners. 

Procedurally the Board can ask to have items removed from the Consent Calendar (Agenda), which they can deal with individually. Once discussion is complete, the item is either returned to the Consent Calendar or tabled for another part of the meeting. Once all items requesting discussion are dealt with, the Consent Calendar is voted on as a whole.

The meetings generally last a little more than an hour, and can be followed by a special report by one of the commissioners. During the break, it's not unusual for some of the commissioners to come to the visitor's seats and introduce themselves. Of all the government organizations with open meetings, MWRD is the most welcoming and friendly.

Questions? Contact Pat Graunke, or Diane Edmundson, .

Chicago Board of Education

The Chicago Board of Education holds its monthly Board meeting on the fourth Wednesday of every month, unless otherwise noted. November and December meetings are held on the third Wednesday respectively.

Unless otherwise noted, Chicago Board of Education meetings are held in the Board room, 42 W. Madison Street, Chicago, Illinois, Garden Level. Members of the public are welcome but you must register to observe. Go online at to check for the correct date of the meeting and the time to register.  You must register on line and do it as early as they allow.  Slots fill up quickly. Advance registration will be open the Monday preceding the Board meeting at 10:30 a.m. and close Tuesday at 5:00 p.m., or until all slots are filled.  

You also can sign up to speak. There is a 60 speaker limit at two minutes each, and those from the same organization are asked to stand as a group and select one speaker.

Upon arrival you will receive a number, an agenda, and a list of those speaking and their subjects. Observers will be placed in an overflow room with giant TV screens and admitted to the board room as space becomes available. Those with lower numbers are admitted first, so it pays to arrive at least an hour before the board meeting, which starts at 10:30. The meeting lasts at least two and half hours between the opening presentations and the public comment period. This is followed by executive session, after which the board reconvenes for public votes on items discussed in executive session and other action.

Questions? Contact Rae Sokolow,

Chicago Board of Elections

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners meets at 9 a.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, in the Board's 8th Floor offices at 69 W. Washington St., Chicago. Visitors are welcome. There is opportunity for public comment (5 minute maximum) during the meeting. Signup to speak when you arrive.

Questions? Contact Helene Gabelnick,

Health and Human Services

The Board of Directors of the Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS) meets on the last Friday of each month at 9:00 A.M. at 1900 W. Polk Street, in the Second Floor Conference Room, Chicago, Illinois.

For more information, contact Diane Edmundson,

League of Women Voters of Chicago - Observer Report

Please send completed report to MWRD and HHS reports also should be sent to Diane Edmundson,

Observed by: _____________________________________________________& ____________________________________________________

Date: _________________________________ Meeting Length:_____________________________________

Meeting Name : (Example City Council, MWRD Board, Board of Education, Board of Elections or committees)

I. What is the Headline? _____________________________________________________

II. Significant Decisions Made:

III. Significant Topics Discussed and/or Referred to Committee (please specify which committee):

IV. Unexpected Votes, Events, Testimony or Items to Watch for in the Future:

V. Any Other Comments or Observations: