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For more than a year and a half, $140,000 of ward funds have been misplaced, and neither Solis nor the city's budget office can explain where they've gone.
The money was intended for "art and culture" initiatives, including new mural installations and a project at Benito Juarez Community Academy, and was supposed to come out of the ward's menu money, the $1.3 million given to each ward by the city every year for infrastructure and beautification projects.
Danny Solis has been 25th Ward alderman since he was appointed by then-mayor Richard M. Daley in 1996. Currently, four candidates are challenging Solis in the upcoming February election; the last election in 2011 resulted in a run-off, a special election held when no candidate wins by more than 50 percent, between Solis and community activist Cuahutemoc "Temoc" Morfin.
In 2013, the ward contracted the artist collective Pawn Works to recruit muralists for the ward's Art in Public Places initiative. By the end of that year, the group was still owed $16,000 of the $30,000 it was promised.
Frustrated by the delay, Pawn Works repeatedly reached out to the alderman's office, and were told at the time that the money was tied up in the "bureaucratic processes of the city."
Pawn Works still hasn't been paid, and a few weeks ago, the group was told that another organization—a nonprofit called Chicago Public Art Group—would be taking over the task of getting the artists repaid. The group's executive director Jon Pounds said in October that Solis's office asked his organization to sort through a bunch of paperwork to figure out who's owed what.
According to Pounds, his group, which has experience in handling these kind of city art projects, had been contracted by the city as a fiscal agent for the 25th Ward office to manage $28,000 promised to multiple artists who either did mural work or were developing artistic projects within the ward.
After repeated attempts to reach Solis's office, my e-mails were returned by Tom Bowen, a former top political aide for Mayor Rahm Emanuel who's evidently now a spokesman for Solis.
According to Bowen, a different Pilsen-based nonprofit was initially responsible for managing the artist payments, but was dropped by the ward office after the corporation's executive director recently stepped down. That nonprofit's former executive director said, to his knowledge, his group was never involved with aiding the ward on those artist payments.
Looking at the paperwork, Pounds said the issues are mostly technical problems that could have been avoided by having a group like his involved from the start.
"I think the 25th Ward [office] wanted this project to happen, they promoted it and accomplished it. But I think the complications of moving the money was greater than they understood," Pounds said.
And the $140,000 in missing ward money? A spokesman for the city's budget office wouldn't comment on whether the 25th Ward office had received any of its menu money.
And according to Bowen, the money is still tied up in a "bureaucratic snafu."
A snafu that needs a much better explanation.