• Alex Nitkin
    JUN 02, 2021

    Springfield action adds breathing room for Cook County redistricting, scrambles county ethics overhaul

    Cook County leaders will face ramifications from two major bills passed by state lawmakers on Monday.

    A bill approved by state lawmakers on Monday will likely stretch the timeline for Cook County’s decennial remap, relieving pressure on commissioners to approve new district boundaries while census data remains in flux. But an overhaul of the state’s ethics rules, also approved Monday, cast new doubt on a long-baked effort to updated the county’s ethics code.

    County leaders set a goal last month of nailing down a new map on Aug. 30, one day before current state law allows 2022 candidates — including all 17 county commissioners — to begin circulating ballot petitions. Redistricting consultant Peter Creticos told commissioners he would work to build out draft maps using preliminary census data, as the U.S. Census Bureau is not on track to release granular population results until mid-August.

    Related: Cook County using preliminary census data for remap

    But the overhaul of Illinois election laws (SB 825) that now awaits Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature includes a provision to delay the date of the state’s 2022 primary from March 15 to June 28. It would in turn push back the beginning of petition season until Jan. 12 of next year.

    Cook County Comm. Peter Silvestri (R-9), vice chair of the county board’s Redistricting Committee, told The Daily Line on Tuesday that the delay should give county leaders more time to consider the final census data before they approve a final map.

    Related: Cook County redistricting gets underway as commissioners stare down ‘tight period’ before reelection season

    “I think the legislature did the right thing,” Silvestri said. “The extension will make it a better process, since now there’s no boogeyman on top of everything dictating that we could be using the wrong numbers.”

    The west-suburban commissioner added that county leaders have yet to make any formal decisions to extend their timeline, which Creticos laid out for commissioners during a May 19 committee meeting. He set a goal of rolling out a “framework map” on Aug. 12 that would incorporate data from the American Community Survey and the data mapping software ESRI, and officials would later fold the finalized census data into their calculus before voting on a final map.

    Creticos acknowledged last month — and again to The Daily Line on Tuesday — that the calendar presented a “short window” to create a new map. In 2012, commissioners had nearly a month to debate a final draft map before they approved a final version.

    “People’s objections to the timetable were over whether it would afford the public adequate time to weigh in on the final map based on the final census numbers,” Creticos said. “Everyone recognizes those two weeks are a real tight schedule.”

    Silvestri also noted that the ESRI and community survey data “aren’t consistent” and could risk an inaccurate map if they don’t take the final data into full account.

    “You can’t have a primary without petitions, and petitions won’t mean much if you don’t know where your district is,” Silvestri said. “I think it’s incumbent on us to verify that we have the best and most complete data before we move forward.”

    “Now we theoretically have until December to make that decision,” he added.

    Comm. Deborah Sims (D-5), who chairs the county redistricting committee, did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

    The next redistricting committee meeting is scheduled for 10 p.m. next Monday, June 7.

    Ethics legislation throws county into legal gray area

    Cook County Comm. Larry Suffredin (D-13) has been working since last year to advance a long-planned overhaul of the county’s code of ethics, but he decided to put the effort on hold this spring to let state legislators act first.

    Lawmakers made their move on Monday, sending Pritzker a 113-page bill (SB 539) that would set new guardrails on lobbying, economic disclosures and fundraising. The measure includes a carveout for the city of Chicago, but Cook County and all other local governments are barred from passing lobbying rules “inconsistent” with the new state regulations.

    Related: House approves 11th-hour ethics overhaul amid hail of criticism

    Suffredin told The Daily Line on Tuesday that much of the county’s proposed ethics reform package (20-4404) could rest on a judge’s view of the word “inconsistent.” Under a strict legal interpretation, the new law could nullify much of the county’s “rather robust lobbying ordinance” — including provisions requiring detailed information on how much lobbyists are paid and which county officials they meet with, Suffredin said.

    “We’re going to need to do some more research and studying, but my belief is that this law will have implications on how the county will regulate lobbyists, and on some of the other ethical provisions we’ve put out there,” he said.


    Specifically, Suffredin said county leaders will have to revisit its rules requiring lobbyists to register with county Clerk Karen Yarbrough’s office, now that registration will be required with the Illinois Secretary of State too. Making lobbyists sign up with both offices could be “too onerous,” but nixing the county requirement would also cut off a source of fee revenue, he said.

    The north-suburban commissioner said he hopes to hold an additional subject matter hearing to discuss how to reconcile the state bill with his proposed county revisions, making a vote on the measure unlikely in June.

    He added that he is “optimistic” that the county’s new ordinance will be allowed to exceed the new state ethics requirements without being considered “inconsistent.”

    “I’ll look to make sure we’re relatively close on the definitions, but I think I’d always be trying to go a little further than they did,” Suffredin said.

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