How to Get Active in Your Cook County Government

Your guide to tracking legislation and communicating with the Cook County Board of Commissioners, which oversees more than $4 billion annually and has a say in everything from the local court system to public health management and elections.

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The Cook County Board of Commissioners oversees more than $4 billion in spending every year and has a say in everything from the local court system to public health management and elections. The fall is an especially busy period as the board considers the president’s budget proposal and brings in individual departments for hearings. It’s difficult for taxpayers to get active and engage with all of it. To make it just a little easier, we put together this guide to engaging in Cook County board meetings.

How do I know when meetings are happening?

The easiest way to check when Cook County board meetings are happening is to visit https://www.cookcountyil.gov/calendar and use the filter on the right-hand side for board meetings.

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However, if you are tracking a particular piece of legislation and want to know whether it’s going to come up at a meeting, you will have to visit Legistar: https://cook-county.legistar.com/Legislation.aspx.

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While this system is not what you might call intuitive, it’s a favorite of local governments in the Chicago region. As an active resident, we encourage you to spend a few minutes exploring that site - you’ll be glad you got to know it. The most direct way to find a proposal is to look up legislation by its file number. You also can try narrowing down by the sponsor, the date it was introduced, or last (and usually least) a text search.

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Once you find the legislation, you will be able to see what committee has control of it. Agendas for board meetings are supposed to be posted 72 hours in advance of the next committee meeting, with updates allowed until 48 hours before. So, take note of when the next meeting for that committee is, and check back a few days before to see if your ordinance made it to the meeting agenda. If the agenda isn’t posted 72 hours beforehand, take a screenshot and let us know. Last-minute changes also are available in person outside the board meeting room.

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How do I attend and watch Cook County Board meetings?

Anyone can attend a board meeting. You do not have to sign up in advance and no one will ask you to sign in when you arrive. If you can’t get to the meeting in person, you can watch Cook County board meetings live online, or you can watch the recording later on the Legistar website.

To watch a recording later, visit Legistar’s calendar tab: https://cook-county.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx. Once there, scroll to the meeting you wish to watch and, on the right-hand side, click the “Video” link.

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You do need to sign up if you would like to provide public comment at a meeting. That can be done online or in person at the Cook County commissioners office on the 5th floor of 118 N Clark St.

How do I sign up for public comment?

You can congratulate, lecture, or otherwise let the board commissioners know your opinion by signing up online or in person to provide public comment.

To sign up online, visit https://www.cookcountyil.gov/calendar and find the meeting that interests you. For example, if you are concerned about proposed changes to rabies vaccination tags:

  • First check Legistar to confirm the legislation is coming up and write down the record number (xx-xxxx).
  • Then, on the event calendar  click on the calendar entry and then click “To Speak at the hearing and/or provide written comment, click here.” (This link can also be accessed through Legistar.)
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A pop-up form will allow you to note the legislation on which you want to comment, your position on it, and whether you want to speak in person. If you don’t want to speak in person but still want to submit comments, you can do so using this form.

How effective is public comment?

Directly calling and emailing your representatives, as well as showing up to speak in person, always is going to be more powerful for an individual than submitting a comment online. However, these options are not always available to everyone, which is why BGA’s policy team supported the creation of an online public comment system for Cook County. And while emailing the board commissioners is great, taking the extra step of submitting that email via the public comment form will ensure that your opinions are part of the public record. All public comments are posted on Legistar.

If you do use the system to sign up to speak or to voice your opinions online, tell us about your experience. We'd appreciate hearing your thoughts about how to improve Cook County's system.

About the Author

Rachel L. Leven

Rachel Leven is the BGA’s policy manager focusing on Chicago and Cook County. Before joining the BGA, Leven ran communications for the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG), a nationally renowned municipal oversight agency.