Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Clerk David Orr, and the League of Women Voters of Cook County held a press conference Monday, April 16th to announce new transparency measures for the Cook County Board.
The measures are aimed at making it easier for residents to access and understand Cook County Board proceedings. Efforts were focused on improving the design and function of the Cook County website, and the websites of the Secretary to the Board and the Cook County Clerk, introducing live streaming capabilities for all Board meetings, and ensuring timely archiving of Board proceedings.
“By making County Board meetings more accessible for residents, we’re opening up the doors of government, creating a more transparent legislative process, and engaging directly with the people we ser ve as elected officials,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “I want to thank the League of Women Voters of Cook County and residents who helped identify ways to advance a more open government.”
Starting at the April 17th Board meeting, all proceedings of the Cook County Board and the Forest Preserve District Board, including committee meetings, will be streamed live on the front page of the Secretary to the Board’s website (cookcountyil.gov/secretarytotheboard). They will also be broadcast live on the main Cook County website. Board meetings will be broadcast live on the Cook County Government Channel (Comcast Channel 900) later this year. Through the collaborative work of the Cook County Bureau of Technology, Facilities Management, and the Secretary to the Board, the County was able to eliminate a nearly $100,000/year camera rental contract and install new technology that allows recording and broa dcast of committee meetings, Board meetings and Forest Preserve meetings.
The Cook County Board and the Secretary to the Board’s websites also have been revised to be more user-friendly. Previously, it was confusing and cumbersome to find information about Board meetings on the Cook County website. It took as many as six clicks from the main website to find any information about the County’s legislative bodies. Now, residents will be able to find all this information within two clicks or less. The measures include:
- A link on the front page of the main County website that has a drop down menu that links to elected leadership, the Clerk of the Board, Secretary to the Board, CCHHS System Board, CCFPD Board, pending legislation, and County ordinances. The link also directs to a landing page of County legislative bodies.
- · A landing page that provides brief descriptions of County legislative bodies and links to their websites.
- · A County organizational chart including the name of the department, the name of the department head, the 2012 budget, the number of full time equivalent positions for 2012, and a link to the agency’s website (can be found under the Agency button on the front page).
- · A link to the schedule for Channel 900 (under the “Media” button). Previously, the cable channel schedule was not available on the County website.
New technology will allow the Secretary to post meeting video within 24 hours of the meeting. For the first time, committee meetings and Forest Preserve District meetings will also be posted in the media archive.
The Secretary’s website redesign will include an email subscription form that will capture resident’s information and add it to the Secretary’s contact database, making it much easier for residents to receive the Cook County Board’s committee meeting updates and materials.
The Cook County Clerk of the Board – a division of the Cook County Clerk’s office – has posted some additional instructions about data on the “County Board Proceedings” section of cookcountyclerk.com. For example, the website now clarifies that the board meeting “Document Search” is organized by calendar year, rather than fiscal year, making it easier for consumers to navigate the site and retrieve information.
“The League of Women Voters contacted us at an opportune moment,” said David Orr, Cook County Clerk. “Our redesigned website already had a more robust search function, and a page dedicated to Divided Roll Call votes. We were eager for feedback, and the League offered useful suggestions. I believe that anything that gets voters more interested in the nuts and bolts of the County Board’s actions, and drives more people to our website, is good for democracy.”
The improvements to the Secretary to the Board’s website come at the recommendation of the League of Women Voters. The League of Women Voters contacted the Offices of the County Board President and the County Clerk in January with recommendations about how to improve resident access to information about County Board proceedings. The League of Women Voters helped identify ways to make County government more transparent and provided helpful suggestions and guidance throughout the implementation process.
“We applaud the President and the County Clerk for being so responsive to our suggestions on ways to improve transparency in Cook County government. In particular, we are excited about the improvements to the County’s main web site and the dramatic increase in the accessibility by the public to the different Board and Committee meetings, all of which come under the President’s purview,” said Cynthia Schilsky, President of the League of Women Voters of Cook County. “As a result, Cook County will be in a better position to engage its residents, and residents will be able to more easily understand the workings of the County Board. Encouraging the informed and active participation of citizens in government is at the core of the League’s mission.”