Pardon the interruption

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The City Council's finance and economic development committees had an action-packed meeting Monday. First they got to see firsthand just how limited, scattered [PDF; see page 37995], and dated the city's online information about multimillion-dollar TIF deals is, which prompted a revealing insight from finance chairman Ed Burke. "This is 2009," he said, and no one could disagree.

Then aldermen got an introduction to modern technology and truly public public records thanks to Dan O'Neil of EveryBlock Chicago, who demonstrated that it wouldn't bust the budget to post a fuller set of TIF documents. Again, Burke was moved to excitement and exhortation: "I wasn't familiar with your site, but I just pulled it up, and I encourage members of the City Council to look it up--it's just fascinating," he said. "Mr. O'Neil, how can we assist you?"

O'Neil said they could help by working to provide his site with more raw data, and in turn he'd be happy to help put TIF information online--for free.

It was a generous offer that, for the moment at least, economic development committee chairman Margaret Laurino was able to refuse. But before she could announce that she was holding the proposal because of a host of concerns (cost, staffing needs, the possiblity that access to information would "overwhelm" citizens, new recommendations from aldermen, other "loose ends"), council chambers were jolted by shouts and chants from the spectator gallery.

"What do we want?"

"A CBA!"

"When do we want it?"

"Now!"

About half a dozen people wearing T-shirts proclaiming their membership in the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization stood up. The chants grew louder. Aldermen looked at each other in apparent shock and confusion, as if to say, Whose fault is this? What poor sucker alderman foolishly promised these people a CBA and then failed to come up with an adequate excuse for not delivering it? Why didn't the mayor's people find some other goodies to throw their way and keep them quiet--or at least keep them on the south side?

And by the way--what's a CBA?

Actually, a couple of aldermen did utter that last question aloud, and one of the KOCO demonstrators stopped chanting to explain: "A community benefits agreement! For the Olympics! Why isn't it on the agenda? Burke, you know what it is! Stop taking all your orders from the fifth floor!"

Several police officers moved quickly toward the group, but they were already filing calmly to the exits. "This has just begun!" shouted one of the activists on his way out.

Fourth Ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle was red-faced and generally looking not so happy about the lovely springlike day outside as she walked up and said something quietly to Burke, then turned and strode out of the room. Preckwinkle is one of the chief sponsors of a proposed "community benefits" ordinance crafted in consultation with KOCO and other south-side groups. It would commit the city to neighborhood investment, minority hiring, and transit improvements.

In the lounge behind council chambers Preckwinkle explained that she had asked Burke to keep the benefits proposal off this week's finance committee agenda. The 2016 bid committee recently announced that several longtime allies of Mayor Daley would be leading a new outreach effort to neighborhood groups, and Preckwinkle said the outreach team deserved a chance to finish a report on its plans that's due on March 19. She said the finance committee will be able to review those plans when it takes up the community benefits proposal in a special meeting on March 27.

"We want something passed out of the [City Council]," she said. "And KOCO knew what my position was."

Preckwinkle has said she supports the city's Olympics bid as long as it bequeaths some sort of tangible benefits to the mid-south side, where the Olympic village and stadium would be located. KOCO and other groups have been more blunt: put something in place before International Olympic Committee officials visit in April or they'll be greeted with embarrassing demonstrations.

Looks like this was their warning shout.

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