Residents of Illinois have at least four levels of government that are accountable to them: the State of Illinois, a county government, a township government, and a municipal government (the city or village in which you live). All of these governments have the authority to make laws or policies that affect quality of life, and levy taxes. In addition, there are other bodies of government that may provide a service to you and make policies that affect you such as school and community college districts, park and recreation districts, fire or emergency services, or water districts, among others. Each body of government is accountable to the Illinois residents to whom it provides services through direct representation by elected officials or indirect representation of individuals appointed by an elected official. Direct representation means that citizens vote directly for the person responsible – his or her name is on a ballot, for example, such as a governor. Indirect representation means that the person responsible is accountable to an individual or group of individuals that citizens have elected, such as the head of a state agency who is appointed by an elected official. Each level of government typically has the following structure – an executive, who may or may not be elected; a policy-setting body of representatives who are usually elected; and paid staff who conduct the daily business of government and report to the executive.
The executive is the individual charged with managing the affairs of that particular government on a daily basis, such as the Governor of Illinois, a county president, or the mayor of a city or village.
Policy –setting or legislative bodies have the responsibility for making the laws and setting the policies that govern that body of government. The state has two such bodies, the Illinois House of Representatives and the Illinois Senate. Counties have commissioners, cities and villages (towns) legislative bodies may be called trustees, or councilpersons. The state legislators make state laws such as legal driving age and income tax rates, while cities and village councils create local policy often called ordinances on issues like zoning, property and sales tax rates, the provision of local services such as waste collection or social services.
Single purpose bodies such as school districts or recreational districts are often governed by a policy setting body – such as the School Board of Commissioners who collectively appoint an executive who is accountable to the board. In larger cities, such as Chicago, these single purpose bodies have been merged with city government and are accountable to the executive.