I'm almost tempted to think that more and more aldermen are tired of being steamrolled by an administration that views legislative oversight as an annoyance.
Earlier this week Mayor Daley pushed for a hasty approval of his plan to balance the budget deficit with unpaid furlough days for city workers, which of course would result in additional service cuts. Aldermen not only hesitated to go along but bitched about a host of other matters they’d been bulldozed on over the last year, including the Midway Airport and parking meter lease deals. By this morning the furlough plan had been put on hold for revision.
“It’s just a pattern that’s been developed on these huge things that we need a lot of time to deliberate on,” says Isaac Carothers, the west-side boss and mayoral ally who’s been unusually critical of the administration lately. “The administration takes a lot of time on them and we need some time too. They need to rethink the process.”
Another administration plan to come up with cash—the unpopular idea to tax alley Dumpsters—has been put on hold repeatedly since last November because aldermen are weary of taking hits from angry business owners (including some whose waste haulers have already asked them to pay more even though the tax wasn't yet in place). “All that we have are fees, fees, fees, and more fees,” said alderman Leslie Hairston. “We need to find a way to balance the budget that will keep people in the city without bankrupting them.”
And Chicago drivers continue to rail at their aldermen for signing off on the deal that created the parking meter mess. This morning aldermen Manny Flores, Rey Colon, and Brendan Reilly proposed an ordinance that would require the city to post all the records and financial details of city asset sales in a central location online—essentially a version of the recently passed TIF Sunshine Ordinance applied to major privatization deals.
“We have a heightened responsibility to let people know how we’re using their money and open it up to a robust debate,” Flores said. “How can anyone be against openness and transparency?”
Well, for starters, they can do it by claiming they don’t want to overwhelm voters, or claiming it’s too costly to put the materials in one place, or using antiquated technology that makes it difficult to read and analyze the records.
Still, that doesn't mean the ordinance isn't a step forward, and Flores is fired up—more than 30 of the council’s 50 aldermen have already signed on to his measure ... though it’s hardly unprecedented for an ordinance to lose supporters before it comes up for a vote with the mayor in the room.
But another proposal designed to prevent a repeat of the meters fiasco--alderman Tom Allen’s plan to require a waiting period before a lease-deal vote--was tabled by the finance committee today. A few hours later aldermen signed off on the Dumpster tax because they didn’t know how else to start filling the latest budget deficit. As alderman Ed Burke explained to his colleagues just before the vote was called, “There ain’t no free lunch. Either we’re going to have to find sources of revenue or we’re going to have to cut expenditures.” Actually, it will probably end up being both. Today they went with the tax; the next round of cuts will come later.
Carothers was among those who voted for it, just as he voted for the budget package that originally created it, the Midway lease deal (which has since fallen through), and virtually every other administration initiative that’s come before the council (except the parking meter agreement—he skipped that vote). Carothers admits that the council has allowed the administration to do what it wants.
“There’s no doubt that there has been very little resistance,” he said. “But it’s also the case that these departments come down here and testify to us, and it’s clear later they weren’t being truthful.”
Earlier this week 26th Ward alderman Billy Ocasio announced that he was resigning to go to work for governor Pat Quinn. The timing isn’t great for anyone who’d like to see more oversight from the council—over the last several months Ocasio has been on an angry independent streak, not just voting against the 2009 budget and the parking meter deal but ripping into the administration for not doing more to help working-class people. “I felt that someone had to step up, and it was my time to be the one to do it,” he said in an interview today.
Ocasio said he’s leaving because he’s excited about working at the state level, not because he’s fed up with the way the city does business. He even argued that Daley and his staff shouldn’t get all of the blame for what’s broken, or even most of it. “The administration has things they do wrong,” he said. “But we as a legislative body need to step up and do our jobs.”
There's food for thought. In the meantime, it occurs to me that I may have heard some of this before.