When a person first heard stories about how Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was cutting the budget of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR) and further, was eliminating seven of the commission’s advisory councils, it might cause that person to worry that the city was not committed to human rights. That is how the media portrayed the story, because they did not know the truth. Now you will hear the real story, firsthand, from a former member of the Advisory Council on Women of the Commission and former Acting Commissioner.
The CCHR is comprised of Commissioners and Advisory Councils. The Commissioners and members of the Advisory Council are appointed to terms by the Mayor and are there on an unpaid, voluntary basis. The paid staff consists of hearing officers, lawyers, bureaucrats and the Directors of each of the Advisory Councils. I was appointed to the Advisory Council on Women in 2002 by Mayor Richard M. Daley. I thought it was a great honor and I was very excited to participate. Then I started attending Advisory Council meetings, and soon realized that absolutely nothing was ever accomplished. I felt the Council was just a sham.
Besides the Women’s Council, there are Advisory Councils on African Affairs, Arab Affairs, Immigration and Refugee Affairs, Latino Affairs, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues and Veteran’s Affairs. Some of the other councils held forums and seminars, but really did nothing that has not already been done by the same exact type of groups at the county and state levels. The media seems to think that the Advisory Councils actually do something with hearing discrimination cases. None of the councils hear any cases. So eliminating the Advisory Council will effect absolutely nothing! Hearings are held by the Commissioners.
When I was appointed to the Women’s Advisory Council, the Chairman of the Commission was Clarence Woods, who also held a full-time job as the head of Hull House. I always wondered how he was able to have two full-time paid jobs -- but the amount of time city employees actually spent at work was not always carefully scrutinized under the Daley administration.
Sitting on the Advisory Council on Women was a huge frustration to me. I hate having a title and doing nothing. In 2006, the Chairman of the Women’s Council quit. I decided that I wanted to become Chairman, because then maybe I could get the Council to actually accomplish something.
I met with Chairman Wood and pitched my case for the appointment. He agreed to recommend me to Mayor Daley. The letter is the picture on this blog. I became acting Chairman of the Women’s Council, and that position also included becoming an Acting Commissioner. The Commissioners were supposed to meet monthly and vote on the discrimination suits that people had filed with the Commission for adjudication. These cases dealt mostly with sexual harassment, housing and racial discrimination.
At my first monthly Commissioners’ meeting, I was astounded to discover that the small number of cases we looked at were years and years old. We only looked at a few during each one hour meeting so the backlog would never be erased. Most of the meeting was actually spent eating lunch. Each of the commissioners discussed what city contracts they could share with each other’s companies while they leisurely ate those lunches, and I was appalled.
I then discovered that at many of the monthly meetings we could not even make any decisions because there weren’t enough present for a quorum. Further, there were no monthly meetings during the summer, nor in the month of December. I was astounded and started to complain.
As expected, my “Acting Commissioner” title was yanked and the Mayor’s office decided “not to move my appointment along.” I was vocally exposing that the Commission was useless and existed only so the City of Chicago could look good by having a Human Rights Commission “on paper.” The city could not risk having me around. If I could not be a Commissioner or Chairman of the Women’s Council, then there was no reason to be just a member of the Women’s Council, so I resigned. I let the system beat me.
Emanuel’s proposed 2012 budget cuts the spending of the Commission by $619,322 or 19.5%t and will eliminate seven of the Commission’s advisory councils. Soon to disappear are the Advisory Councils on Women; African Affairs; Arab affairs; Asian affairs; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues; Latino Affairs and Immigration and Refugee Affairs. Instead, there will be two new umbrella advisory councils — one on gender and sexuality, the other on equity. The Advisory Council on Veterans Affairs would remain intact. An Office of New Americans also would be created in the Mayor’s office.
Members of the advisory councils held a press conference last week, and according to the Sun-Times, the reason was “…to complain that the consolidation would leave surviving advisory councils with a workload so ‘overwhelming’ that it would render them ‘ineffective.’”
What a joke! The councils don’t do anything now, so how can there be an overwhelming workload for the remaining two umbrella groups if the advisory councils are eliminated?
You might say that the $619,000 the city will cut from the 2012 budget to eliminate the councils is a minuscule percentage of the overall spending by Chicago, so why is Emanuel creating a furor? Obviously his office discovered the Councils do nothing!
Kathleen Strand, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Budget and Management said, “Upon extensive review of the city’s advisory councils, it became clear that their missions share a great deal of objectives and values.” Yeah -- a shared objective to do nothing. Money well saved.