BGA Policy Statement: City Council’s Leadership Should be Chosen by City Council

Bryan Zarou 
Director of Policy, Better Government Association 
BZarou@bettergov.org


A resolution introduced into Chicago’s City Council for the Council–and not the mayor–to replace retired Ald. Michele Smith (43rd Ward) as chair of the Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight is a welcome and overdue assertion of City Council’s authority to appoint its own leadership.

The Better Government Association Policy team has long advocated for a more independent City Council. Exercising Council’s power to appoint new leaders independently of the mayor would be a major step forward for the body and a benefit to the public.

The measure, R2022-971, appoints Ald. Matt Martin (47th Ward), currently the vice-chair of the ethics committee, as chair in place of Smith, who retired effective Aug. 12. State law and the Council’s own rules grant the power to create committees and appoint their membership and leadership to City Council, but alderpersons have historically deferred to the mayor’s appointments.

Leadership positions are more than symbolic: Committees come with their own budgets and staff, are overseen by the chairs, and chairs traditionally set the agenda and decide which matters will be heard in their committees, as well.

Allowing the mayor to appoint committee chairs cedes substantial power from the legislature to the administration. When asked about Martin’s measure at a post-City Council press conference this week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot referred to Council’s current practice, saying, “There’s a process by which we do that, and the process is the mayor makes the final picks. I don’t see any reason to break from that long-standing precedent.”

In addition to the Ethics Committee, of which Martin was vice-chair, leadership of the Committee on Education and Child Development has been vacant since the resignation in April of Ald. Michael Scott (24th Ward). Under Scott’s leadership, the body met only eight times in more than three years, largely to confirm mayoral appointments. No major education legislation advanced through the committee.

The Better Government Association Policy team urges City Council to take this opportunity to act as an independent, co-equal branch of government, both by taking up Ald. Martin’s resolution and by appointing an active and engaged leader as chair of the education committee.