Today Aldertrack paid subscribers received our first Quarterly Report, a guide that includes the member backgrounds of dozens of city administrative boards and commissions. While the report is only going to subscribers, the tale of what it took to gather this much information about how the city works is story that stands on its own.
A compendium of Chicago’s most important boards and commissions with names, appointment dates, and pictures, the Quarterly Report contains as much contact information as we could find. And there arose our challenge: like anything else even remotely related to bureaucracy, things were often unnecessarily complicated, hard to track down, or lacking a single source for answers.
The Aldertrack team spent more than a month searching for members who sit on nearly all of the City’s boards & commissions. We say nearly, because we ran into many roadblocks: outdated information, unhelpful staffers, and in some cases, little to no publicly available information.
Excluding Special Service Areas (SSAs), the City lists 70 different boards and commissions for the City of Chicago. These commissions advise and manage city business for everything from public transportation to noise control at Chicago-area airports; zoning and development commissions that approve large scale construction projects and landmark designations to panels that address affordable housing funding and development.
The City’s web page provides skeletal information: a brief sentence describing the board’s function, the corresponding legal authority, whether City Council approval is required and a list of names and expiration dates. Using these member lists as our starting point, we searched through LinkedIn pages and old press releases dating back to 2011 to confirm job titles. We also cross referenced appointment dates with the Journals of the Proceedings and Legistar, and searched the relevant legal text to find board duties, membership requirements, and compensation.
But over the course of the month, we found the city’s master list of administrative board members was often outdated or didn’t match the lists provided on various commission websites. More than a third of the members the city listed as members on the Neighborspace Board of Directors are no longer serving on the board. We found similar discrepancies with World Business Chicago and the Chicago-Gary Regional Airport Authority, a panel created through an interstate agreement with Indiana and Illinois.
We also found cases where members continued to serve on the board even though their appointments had expired. That was the case for the board the oversees the Chicago Public Library. The terms for six of the eight members currently sitting on the Chicago Public Library Board have expired. When we contacted the board’s staffer, Pete Malloy, he assured us that members are allowed to serve until their replacement has been found or their reappointment has been filed. The Mayor’s office usually renews appointments when they submit requests for new appointees, and since there is currently a vacancy on the public library board, those reappointments won’t be filed until a new board member is found, Malloy said, after verifying the information with the Mayor’s office.
We had an especially difficult time verifying the members of boards whose appointments don’t require City Council approval. Since the Mayor’s office doesn’t have to submit a resolution requesting these appointments, there is little to no paper trail detailing whether someone has stepped down or added to the board. We contacted various city departments and board staffers to get a simple list of names, and were sometimes told to submit FOIA requests.
When we contacted to the City’s Commission on Human Relations to to verify the appointment dates for the members of the Advisory Council on Equity, we were told to submit a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request. We were sometimes asked to submit FOIAs for simple questions like whether board members were compensated or whether the City’s membership lists w
We even made a personal visit to the office that oversees the city’s boards and commissions on City Hall’s 4th floor to verify appointment dates and memberships for some of these boards. The receptionist there told us the person in charge of these governing bodies was out of the office, and refused to provide that person’s contact information, suggesting we go to the the fifth floor and address our questions to the Mayor’s press office.
Some boards have a mixture of City, County and State appointees, and each government entity has their own database listing board memberships. The lists rarely matched. We found that to be the case with the Chicago-Gary Regional Airport Authority and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority Board.
But once we got past these discrepancies and began putting the lists together we started to notice some trends.
There are still a significant number of Mayor Richard M. Daley appointees sitting on development and social service related boards. Eight of the 18 members on the Community Land Trust Board were appointed by Mayor Daley, and most of those members secured a spot on the board in 2006 when the board was created to address the limited supply of affordable housing in the City. A similar oversight body, the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund Board, a not-for-profit organization created in 1967 to provide low-income residents with affordable housing, still holds eight Daley appointees, including Board President Thomas J. McNulty, a partner at the law firm Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, LLP. McNulty was appointed in 1989 and all of the board’s meetings are held at his law firm. And even though the board is held to the standards of the Open Meetings Act, members of the public who wish to attend must submit a request ahead of time for security reasons. Then there’s the Chicago Committee on Urban Opportunity, a 16-member oversight body that reviews block grants and Head Start funding. Daley appointed nearly half the board.
In addition to finding a notable number of Daley appointees, we also found what we can be described as musical chair appointments: members serving on multiple boards at once, or moving from one board to the next.
Reverend Richard L. Tolliver, M.D., of St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church, sits on three boards: He was appointed to the Development Fund Advisory Board in 2008, the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund Board in 2012, and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in 2014.
Similarly, Martin Cabrera, Jr, the Chairman of the Chicago Plan Commission, currently sits on the Public Building Commission and World Business Chicago. He also served a stint as Chairman of the City Colleges Board of Trustees, a position he was appointed to in 2011.
Another frequent board member is Blake Sercye, a litigator for corporate law firm Jenner & Block who ran (unsuccessfully) in 2014 for the Cook County Board of Commissioners, with the backing of Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Emanuel. Sercye was appointed this year to the Zoning Board of Appeals and currently serves on the Community Development Commission and the Illinois Medical District Commission.
Then there is Dr. Horace E. Smith, pastor at Apostolic Faith Church and a doctor at Children’s Memorial Hospital, who also serves on three boards. He was appointed to the Low-Income Housing Trust Fund Board this year, and currently serves on Board of Health and the Affirmative Action Advisory Board.
Aldertrack plans to update the board listings every quarter, so expect updates as we learn more.