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Lightfoot adds Council committee to preside over census count

The Special Legislative Committee on the Census is the third committee added by the mayor, whose transition team recommended reducing the number.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), left, and Budget Director Susie Park talk after a Budget Committee meeting Monday, July 22, 2019.
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), left, and Budget Director Susie Park talk after a Budget Committee meeting Monday.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has already added two City Council committees to appease more aldermen, secure more votes and ace the first test of her Council muscle.

That’s even though her transition report recommended reducing the number of committees from the 16 that existed under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Now, there will be a third new committee — for a grand total of 19.

And it will be chaired by Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), the former Public Safety Committee chairman who was dumped from Lightfoot’s original lineup after doing the heavy lifting for Emanuel’s police reforms.

Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), will chair a new Committee on the Census.
Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), former chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, was conspicuously absent from Lightfoot’s original leadership team. But, he will now chair a new Committee on the Census.
Fran Spielman/Chicago Sun-Times

Reboyras will chair a new Special Legislative Committee on the Census with a $111,500-a-year budget, thanks to an amendment approved Monday by the Committee on Budget and Government Operations.

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) questioned why a 19th committee was necessary when Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) is already chairing a 30-member “Full Count Committee” concentrating on so-called “hard-to-count communities” that include “returning citizens and undocumented immigrants.”

Budget Director Susie Park said the Reboyras committee will have a different focus. It will “help coordinate” all of the city’s efforts and work with each of the Council members with “getting the word out, outreach — all of that.”

“This Count Committee . . . is for a specific purpose and does have a shelf life. After the 2020 Census, it’s not something that will continue,” Park said.

Reboyras’ absence from Lightfoot’s original City Council leadership team was conspicuous.

A 16-year veteran, he’s a loyal soldier who delivered for Emanuel and would have done the same for Lightfoot.

Reboyras said Monday he has no idea why he was shunned, then welcomed into the new mayor’s leadership team. But he’s relieved that all has apparently been forgiven.

“I’m here to do the mayor’s work and to work very hard to make sure that everyone is counted during the census. I’m excited about it. . . . Everyone knows how difficult this is. We’re behind right now. We need to catch up a little bit,” Reboyras said.

“I’ve reached out to the National League of Cities. I’m reaching out to L.A. I’ve already been in talks to Univision. I’ll be going on TV quite a bit. In the Spanish language, we need to make sure the word gets out and prepare everybody for what’s coming.”

Reboyras said he’s relieved that the citizenship question President Donald Trump was determined to add to the census form has been ruled out on the strength of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“I had a roll call last week and everyone was afraid to come out. They were peeking out the windows. They were afraid. They thought that ICE was out there with me,” he said.

Aldermen also agreed Monday to add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the 2019 budgets of seven City Council Committees: Finance, Budget, Public Safety, Education, Zoning, Workforce Development and Transportation.

According to Park, it’s a “one-time fix” to make committees “whole” after previous chairman over-spent their allotments for the first five months of this year.

Lightfoot has condemned the loose accounting system that allowed former Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) to exceed her annual budget by $352,629, or 65 percent, and said it won’t be tolerated on her watch.

Austin showed up late for the Budget Committee meeting.

She refused to talk about her over-spending or about the raid June 19 on her Far South Side ward office. Nor would she discuss the federal subpoena that requested documents about the construction and purchase of her West Pullman home from a developer in line for millions in city subsidies.

“Go away. I asked you to go away. Go away. Go away. Do you understand? I don’t have any comments for you. I don’t care what you would like,” Austin said.

Also on Monday, Park disclosed that Lightfoot is considering pushing back the July 31 deadline to release the annual financial analysis that doubles as the city’s preliminary budget.

The budget director was asked when Lightfoot intends to come clean about the size of the shortfall she inherited from Emanuel. So far, all the mayor would say is that it’s “north of $700 million.”

“We are working on that right now. And we want to make sure to get it right,” Park said. “We’re taking a look at all of what we know we’ll need to account for next year. . . . We’re looking at the full settlements and judgments.”

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) talks to Ald. David Moore (17th) on Monday at City Hall.
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) talks to Ald. David Moore (17th) after Monday’s Budget Committee meeting. Austin was ousted as Budget chair by Mayor Lori Lightfoot; last year, that committee exceeded its annual budget by 65 percent. Austin showed up late for Monday’s Budget Committee meeting and wouldn’t discuss her over-spending or the raid June 19 on her ward office. “Go away,” she told the Sun-Times. “I don’t have any comments for you.”
Fran Spielman/Chicago Sun-Times