WOODLAWN — As Chicago Public School students received their report cards last week, nearly 150 local public agencies received a report card too.
City Bureau decided to release the Open Gov Report Card to show how much the city’s public bodies adhere to the Open Meetings Act. They also ranked organizations based on a set of transparency criteria.
Among the 11 criteria:
- The agencies have a website;
- Meeting schedules, agendas, minutes and recordings are posted online;
- Attendees can speak about anything during public comment sessions, and don’t have to register ahead of time; and
- Meetings are rarely canceled, and scheduled at various times to accommodate attendees’ schedules.
Over the last few months, Sier and other participants analyzed the data, assigning criteria to figure out what it could say about transparency in government.
Participants in the outlet’s Documenters initiative, which trains and pays residents to monitor local government, contributed information they gathered while on assignment, Sier said.
The report card is not “the be-all, end-all of transparency,” he said, but rather a general benchmark to compare agencies.
For example, the Chicago Police Board received a middling C grade, despite its history of running background checks on public commenters.
SSA #42, which scored a B — tied for the highest grade of any SSA — recently violated the Open Meetings Act to discuss with event planners why its summer festival went so far over budget.
After setting the criteria, developers “couldn’t add additional categories just to call out something particularly egregious,” Sier said. On the flip side, there are also “examples of agencies doing more proactive things that aren’t really reflected in the score.”
The results might be dismal, but the report card is “not all to be doom and gloom, bashing on a lot of these agencies,” he said.
The developers hope it can be a tool to inform residents of outlets for civic engagement, while encouraging improvement from the lower-scoring agencies.
“Part of what we want people to know is not just, ‘Everything is going poorly,’ but a bit of a know-your-rights outlook — here are the things these agencies owe you,” Sier said. “You can attend them, have a place in them and look up what they’re doing with your local tax dollars.”
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.