Unfinished good government reforms for Emanuel

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Dear Mayor Emanuel,

Belated congratulations on your re-election victory, which thankfully ended the flood of political ads that filled the airwaves for several months and reminded us that money still has the loudest voice in political campaigns.

But that’s another issue for another day.


You’ve been “rehired” by the voters to run our wonderful but deeply troubled city for another four years, and you’re facing daunting challenges: Too many guns, gangs and drugs, and too much violence; not enough jobs; and great fiscal peril — municipal and public school shortfalls that top $2 billion.

The Better Government Association will be evaluating your proposed solutions to those problems, and weighing in along the way, but now is a good time to remind you there’s also a lot of unfinished reform business that needs your attention.

It’s time to encourage the City Council to take three important steps:

+ Hire a budget expert to staff COFA — the new Council Office of Financial Analysis — which has been languishing for more than a year while aldermanic factions battled over who should head it.

The office was established to provide aldermen with an independent analysis of the big financial issues they’re asked to vote on — budgets, audits, fiscal impact statements and privatization proposals — so they’ll have a “second opinion” to consider, along with your administration’s viewpoint.

Former alderman Helen Shiller has withdrawn her name from consideration, which should end the stalemate, but the Council may still need your guidance in selecting someone who can enable city lawmakers to be more than rubber stamps.

+ Empower Joe Ferguson, the inspector general for your administration, to investigate the City Council, which hired its own IG several years ago but refused to give him enough staff or authority to be more than a lapdog.

You’ve expressed support for eliminating the Council IG position and expanding Ferguson’s jurisdiction, so let’s persuade aldermen to make it happen, and arm Ferguson with subpoena power for maximum impact.

Adopt a privatization ordinance that protects taxpayers from another abomination like the parking meter deal. A proposal has been buried in a Council committee for two years, but the issue is now showing signs of life — our BGA Policy Unit is working with your policy team, and that’s good — so let’s finalize an ordinance that subjects every privatization proposal to an independent assessment, public hearings and a thorough vetting.

Finally, there’s the issue of transparency: Despite your self-proclaimed commitment to open government, we’ve had to file numerous lawsuits against departments and agencies under your control — including police, animal care, public schools and CTA — for not complying with our document requests.

When we sat down a few months ago, for one of our BGA “Candid Conversations,” you pledged to look into our concerns, but we haven’t seen much progress. You were understandably preoccupied with a tough re-election campaign, but it’s over — you won — so let’s settle the lawsuits and produce the public records we’re entitled to.

I think that’s it for now, so please think about these reforms and do the right thing.

That way, when we sit down for another conversation, we’ll be able to stipulate significant progress on those “leftovers.”

You’ve talked the talk.  Now it’s time to walk the walk.


Andy Shaw, President & CEO of the Better Government Association.

Email: ashaw@bettergov.org

Twitter: @andyshawbga

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