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To be effective and independent, Chicago’s new aldermen must learn the ropes fast

To remain independent and be effective, a host of new Chicago aldermen would do well with formal training and assistance, the authors write. | Sun-Times file photo

Given this month’s election results, Chicago will have one of the most diverse and progressive City Councils in modern history. With about a dozen new aldermen, including some progressive Democratic Socialists and the fewest white men since 1923, voters have declared that they want change.

But even with these developments, corrupt power dynamics are still institutionalized through the inner workings of City Hall. Old-guard politicians rely on newly elected aldermen not knowing the ropes, so they handpick freshmen who pledge their loyalty in exchange for legislative assistance.

OPINION

In government, process often dictates outcome. Those elected to make change need fair and comprehensive access to information for truly progressive ideas to see the light of day.

One of the first things our new City Council can do is champion the creation of an independent entity that would provide expert-led information and training for aldermen, as well as opportunities for veteran alderman to expand and deepen their knowledge base. Perhaps partnering with a university or non-profit organizations will provide consistent, independent expertise that can help prepare our elected officials.

Now that the election is over, we must focus on substance over platitudes. New leadership at all levels means an opportunity to create the kind of government that speaks to our values. Chicagoans want independent leadership, but independence requires a certain level of confidence, and that confidence comes when aldermen are empowered with information.

Five months after they are sworn in, new aldermen are expected to vote on a complex $9 billion dollar budget that cuts across 34 city departments and dovetails with several other agencies. It is in our interest that they are operating at the maximum level of knowledge and capacity.

If you were having surgery, you wouldn’t want a first-year medical student leading the operation. If you found yourself in a big court battle, you’d be apprehensive about a recent law graduate managing your case.

In the third largest city in the country, it is problematic that there is no formal mechanism for aldermen to receive orientation and training on the fundamentals of city government: things like tax increment financing, budgeting, zoning, how to draft an ordinance and parliamentary procedure.

Chicago is a global city that must be at the forefront of the latest trends in economic development, housing, tourism, environmental issues and much more. Our aldermen must be able to keep up and lead the public policy issues of our time. They cannot do that if they spend their first couple of years trying to make heads and tails of city government, all while simultaneously managing services in their respective wards.

Now that change is upon us, we must take advantage of this opportunity to institutionalize better government. We hope this low-hanging fruit will be a top priority for our new, and hopefully independent, City Council.

Amara Enyia, executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, was a candidate for mayor this year. Alderman David Moore is alderman of the 17th Ward. Michael Scott is alderman of the 24th Ward. Maria Hadden is alderman-elect of the 49th Ward. And Byron Sigcho-Lopez is alderman-elect of the 25th Ward.

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