The City of Chicago is a municipality located in Cook County, Illinois. It has over 2.7 million people and covers more than 227 square miles, with the city limits stretching as far as 25 miles from downtown.
The Chicago government employs close to 20,000 people and has been led by Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot since 2019. A few noteworthy facts about Chicago’s government are that it operates on an annual budget exceeding $8 billion U.S., pays out pensions for nearly 98% of its retired employees, and oversees more than 130 public schools with approximately 400 campuses across the greater metropolitan area.
According to the American Community Survey, the population of Chicago was 2,695,598, with a median age of 34.8 years. Also, 51.6% of the population is female. The 2020 Census shows that 21.5% of the population lives below the poverty line, and 59.4% reported having at least some college education or post-secondary schooling.
These numbers are all important facts to note when you are trying to understand the composition of the Chicago government. For example, if most residents are female and college-educated, more women may be in high-ranking positions than in other cities in Cook County and the surrounding area.
Tourism and Government Jobs
Chicago is one of the largest tourist magnets and employment hubs nationwide, attracting locals and foreigners alike. The city’s local government has a huge role in the smooth functioning and running of the locality.
Initially, Chicago was a small trading center settled in the 1770s by Jean Baptiste Point de Sable. In March 1837, it was incorporated as a city. What was once a small center on Lake Michigan shore quickly began developing into the metropolis today.
As for the government, Chicago is divided into ‘ward’ or municipal legislative districts, each represented by an Alderman in the city council. Originally, the city had six wards, which were established in 1837 as per the charter then.
Now, Chicago has 50 wards, and the Illinois Constitution authorizes the local government to perform certain acts and any function about its affairs. These authorization powers are held by the city council, the city treasurer, the city clerk, and the mayor.
The City of Chicago Governmental Structure and Departments
The state legislature and home rule provisions grant the Chicago city legislative powers in compliance with the Illinois constitution. As a result, the City Council has wide power over the city’s government and affairs, including the authority to regulate for the protection of public health, safety, morals, and interests.
To put it simply, Chicago has a mayor-council government type. In this type of government, the council members and the mayor work together in balancing things along with passing the city budget, overseeing city departments, drafting legislations, and then enforcing them. The mayor must preside at council meetings as the head of the city.
Under the Illinois Constitution, the city of Chicago holds the position of a home rule governmental unit. Therefore, the authorities in the city have the power to perform jobs and functions.
Here are the notable positions in the city of Chicago government:
Lori E Lightfoot is the mayor of Chicago, responsible for managing and administering different city government departments. In Chicago city, the mayor serves for four years.
The mayor’s job is to submit recommendations and proposals to the Chicago city council. They also must enforce the ordinances and legislations unanimously agreed upon by the council members.
More importantly, the mayor submits the annual budget of the city and appoints different members of the government, such as:
- City officers
- Department commissioners
- Department directors
- City board members
In a city council meeting, the mayor acts as the presiding officer. If the mayor is not present, President Pro Tempore takes their place. President Pro Tempore is also a part of the council and must be elected by the members.
The mayor can also submit recommendations to the council on the city departments’ behalf or their own. Then, the city council votes on these legislative matters.
Even though the mayor is a part of the Chicago city council, they cannot vote on the issues discussed in the meetings, except in some exceptional cases.
For example, if the city council’s vote ends up in a tie, the mayor may be asked to vote. Meanwhile, President Pro Tempore is authorized to vote on every discussion in the Chicago city council meeting.
The city clerk keeps a record of the council and the city documents. The city clerk also maintains the city’s corporate seal and publishes the city council’s legislative record in the Journal of Proceedings.
Depending on the directions given by the municipal law or state, the city clerk has to record the council’s actions in the relevant pamphlets and documents. Thus, the city clerk also serves as an official witness to the different meetings of the Chicago city council.
The city treasurer monitors and manages the investments and cash flow in the city. The treasurer also manages the teacher’s pension and employee pension funds.
Moreover, the treasurer is also involved in managing several programs that help economically develop the city. Every year, the treasurer must file a report with the city council.
The report summarizes how the city’s investments went, how much money was received, where it was invested, and how it was dispersed.
Alderpersons are elected for a four-year period during which they represent their designated district, called a ward.
The city of Chicago holds elections for Alderman selection in February. These elections, held on the last Tuesday of the month, determine who will represent the ward for the next four years, based on the ward’s voters.
If there is no chosen candidate, the city holds a run-off election between the candidates getting the highest votes on the first Tuesday of April that year due to the lack of sufficient vote casts.
A ward’s Alderman is responsible for voicing the concerns of the locality in the council. They serve as intermediaries between the council and the ward.
The Alderman also must recommend and support legislation for different wards and the city.
What are the Political Districts in the City of Chicago?
The political districts, or wards, in the city of Chicago are municipal regions that an elected Alderman represents. Currently, there are 50 political districts or wards in the city. You can find the ward your house falls in by checking using your street address on the city’s website.
All you must do is type your home or work address, and the search result will show you your ward and the Alderman who represents it. You can also check the Alderman responsible for your ward and contact them by visiting the Chicago City Clerk website.
Chicago City Government Structure
The city council in Chicago consists of the chief executive (the mayor), the Aldermen for each ward, and the city clerk. The state legislature grants powers and authorities to the city council.
The council has general rights to perform functions within specified limits. Along with managing government affairs, the council can also regulate public welfare, safety, and health functions.
Additionally, the council can develop and enact plans for the growth of the city. However, the council also must ensure that government officials do their job properly within the limits of the law.
The city council in Chicago is comprised of alderpersons, who are elected for a four-year term to represent their designated wards. The council members work together with the mayor and the city clerk on several different issues and projects to develop and maintain the city.
The city council is responsible for creating and approving the city’s budget. Furthermore, they also must organize and approve different local programs, ordinances, and laws presented by the mayor.
What Is Something that the Chicago City Government Does for You?
The council looks at Chicago’s major projects, goals, infrastructural improvement, and other factors, ranging from strategic planning and land use to finances. Some services that the local government handles are:
- Water quality
- Sewer regulations
- Meter Save
- Water quality reports
As the legislative branch of the government, the council holds a substantial amount of authority. Being a citizen, you can watch or attend the meetings, whichever is more convenient for you.
Before you choose to attend, make sure you check the full calendar of meetings for the year. If the ordinance has not set a specific date and meeting, the regular meeting will be held on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month in the Council Chamber.
Here are some ways to be a part of the meetings as an audience:
The council’s meetings are live streamed on video on the News Central page. In addition, you can watch the next meeting here. All videos are captioned to ensure that the information is accessible to all.
You can also attend the council’s meeting in person. The meetings typically start at 10 am. They take place at the Council Chambers on the City Hall’s second floor.
If you want to get more information about attending the next meeting of the city’s legislative branch, contact them here.
Other City Agencies
Along with the citywide elected officials and the council that holds most legislative powers, other city agencies provide services too. Together, these agencies help preserve government priorities and determine tax rates, incur debt, or make any adjustments in the budget ordinance.
While the council is the executive branch, the mayoral appointees in these agencies and departments also partake in management and overseeing of actions about public health, building permits, education, housing, water, and more.
Once everyone is on board, the official action is then taken. Here are some of the agencies that help in the streamlined functioning of Chicago city.
Finance and Administration
- Office of Budget and Management
- Department of Administrative Hearings
- Department of Law
- Department of Human Resources
- Department of Innovation and Technology
- Department of Finance
- Department of Fleet and Facility Management
- Department of Procurement Services
- Department of Planning and Development
- Department of Housing
- Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events
- Police Board
- Civilian Office of Police Accountability
- Office of Emergency Management and Communications
- Fire Department
- Police Department
- Department of Public Health
- Department of Family and Support Services
- Commission on Human Relations
- Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities
- Chicago Public Library
Chicago Water Department
The Department is responsible for overseeing water utility. The mayor appoints the Water Commissioner after confirmation with the Alderman. Some of the services handled by the Department are meter save, water quality reports, conservation, Full Payment certifications, and sewer regulations.
Chicago Board of Education
The Board of Education oversees the public school system in the city. Like the water department and many others, the mayor appoints the members of the Board of Education too.
Chicago Park District
The Chicago Park District is a separate government from the city itself and has its own Authority, Governance Board, and more. The mayor appoints the members of this Board too.
Board of Election Commissioners
The Board is the agency under independent authority that supervises, manages, and sets the policies of election commissions in Chicago. In addition, the Board manages education programs that aim to train more people on core competencies of the election process.
City Colleges of Chicago
The City Colleges of Chicago is the system that oversees seven different colleges in the city. The mayor appoints seven members to the Board of trustees, appointing a president to run the agency.
Chicago Transit Authority
The CTA is an agency that oversees public transportation in the city. Its primary responsibility is to provide appropriate access to all citizens to promote mobility in Chicago.
The mayor appoints the members of the Board of directors, except for those representing Pace and Metra. Those two agencies have their system as well.
Chicago Public Library
The Board of Directors oversees the management and operations of the Chicago Public Library. The mayor appoints nine members to the Board, appoints a President to run the agency.
Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners
The Chicago Park District Board works with the Chicago Park District and oversees its management. The mayor appoints seven members to the Board, appointing a president to run the agency.
Board of Review
The Board of Review is an independent agency that reviews the assessments performed by the Assessor. The mayor appoints five members to the Board, and the members then appoint a president to run the agency.
Board of Health
The Board of Health is an independent authority that sets policies for health in Chicago. The mayor appoints the Board of Health members, and they then appoint a president to run the agency.
City Council Office
The office provides advice and assistance to the City Council members. The mayor appoints the office head, but the council must approve appointments.
City Planning Division
The City Planning Division is the lead agency that sets planning and zoning in Chicago. The city council must approve appointments.
Election Commission Office
The Election Commission is the agency that runs elections in Chicago. The city council must approve appointments, but the mayor makes the initial nomination.
The Civic Federation is a non-partisan organization that studies city finances and reports its findings back to government members and the public. The mayor nominates all members of the Board of Directors, but the city council must approve nominations.
Chicago Department on Aging
The Chicago Department on Aging is an agency that promotes civic engagement among older adults. The mayor nominates all members of the Board, but they need approval from the City Council.
An Inspector General investigates claims of misconduct and corruption within the different departments. The mayor nominates all members of the Board, but they need approval from the City Council.
Department of Public Health
The Chicago Department of Public Health is an agency that promotes public health. The mayor nominates all members of the Board of Directors, but they need approval from the City Council.
Department of Procurement Services
The Department of Procurement Services is an agency that helps establish a transparent and accountable procurement system. The mayor nominates all members of the Board, but they need approval from the City Council.
The Chicago Transit Authority oversees public transportation in the city. Its primary responsibility is to provide appropriate access to all citizens. The mayor appoints the members of the Board, except for those representing Pace and Metra. Those two agencies have their system as well.
Chicago Police Board
The Chicago Police Board is an independent agency that oversees police discipline and investigates complaints lodged against officers. The mayor nominates eight members, and City Council must approve them all.
Chicago Police Department is the law enforcement agency in Chicago. The mayor appoints the Superintendent of Police, who oversees day-to-day operations.
The Independent Police Review Authority is an independent agency charged with investigating serious allegations against police officers and reporting its findings back to City Council. The mayor nominates four members, and City Council must approve them.
Office of Budget and Management
The Office of Budget and Management sets the budget and financial policies for Chicago. The mayor appoints the head of the office, but the city council must approve appointments.
The Board of Ethics
The Board is an independent agency that governs and enforces ethics in city government. The Board is responsible for registering officers and employees of the city and reviewing all financial disclosures. The mayor appoints the four members of the Board, and they then will appoint a president to run the agency.
Department of Law
The Department is an independent agency that provides legal services to the Chicago government. It also provides free legal service to those who cannot afford it. The mayor appoints the head of the Department, but the city council must approve appointments.
Considering the government hierarchy, one can say that the city is governed systematically. Everyone has a certain amount of power and can partake in the resolution and management of affairs. Meanwhile, citizens can submit their complaints to the government through their Alderman.