For a moment earlier this year, a brief moment, it appeared as if two key good government reforms might be embraced by the Chicago City Council.
What fools we were for getting our hopes up.
We’d like, then, to inform our fellow Chicagoans — voters who will cast ballots for aldermanic and mayoral candidates in just over two months — just what your aldermen have been up to.
A bunch of nothing.
Reform No. 1: One year ago the City Council voted to create a badly needed independent budget office to arm aldermen with the facts and analysis they need to do their jobs. With the city in deep financial distress and huge pension bills coming due next year, the need for a skilled analyst who can help them assess revenue ideas and budget proposals has never been greater. But eight months — eight months! — after starting the search for the head of that office, no one has been hired. The money to create the office already has been budgeted.
Ald. Carrie Austin wants to hire former Ald. Helen Shiller for the job, but apparently she doesn’t have the votes. For good reason. The whole point is to bring in a seasoned analyst, someone with an outside, independent perspective. After receiving almost 80 applications, there is no way possible that Shiller is the best the Council can do.
But instead of moving on to the next candidate, the hiring committee, chaired by Austin, has basically folded up shop. Austin should call a committee meeting right after the holidays, so a hire is in place by the Feb. 24 election. Austin’s aldermanic colleagues should demand nothing less. To get there, someone has to help the hiring committee resolve this stalemate. Ald. Ameya Pawar, a main force behind creating the budget office, wants the mayor to mediate but that’s not his job. This is up to the aldermen.
Reform No. 2: A few aldermen, lead by Alds. Edward Burke and Carrie Austin, have put on hold a plan to allow Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate aldermen and their staff members and audit their work, as he now does with City Hall offices. Ferguson would take over responsibilities from the City Council inspector general, who runs a hamstrung office that was destined to fail from the start. This plan has enough support to pass today.
Aldermen, make it happen.