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City Council Follies

By Ald. Joe Moore

Adapted from Moore's e-mail city council report to constituents.

You would have never known it from the newspaper accounts, but the most intense debate at our last city council meeting on June 30th was over the approval of furlough days in 2009 for all non-unionized city workers.

For me, the core of the debate was not so much about the benefit to the city (15 furlough days would save about $10 million) or the pain to workers (considerable, but not as harsh as layoffs). Rather it focused once again on transparency and honesty by Chicago's executive branch.

My colleague, Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, initiated the debate. She explained how she and other aldermen had posed specific questions to the budget office about city spending the week prior. A two-page sheet of answers was distributed on the morning of the council meeting, with just bare bones information and no time to process it or ask for follow-up questions.

Once again, we were being given key information at the very last minute, with no adequate time to review it. Ald. Preckwinkle made it clear that she would no longer vote for ordinances where information was incomplete or delivered at the last possible moment.

When I took the floor, I added my own concerns. "As never before," I stated, "the legislative and the executive branches must work together - but this is still not happening. Taxpayers deserve more than a balanced budget - they deserve to have tough questions asked."

As far as I was concerned, "enough is enough," and as long as aldermen are short-changed on necessary information to decide on their vote, I pledged to vote "no."

After well over an hour of debate, a roll-call vote was called, and not surprisingly the 15 furlough days were approved. As a result, my office staff will be required to take 15 days off without pay between now and the end of the year, resulting in approximately a 10 percent reduction in their pay.

I will also take a 15-day pay cut, although the furlough days are voluntary for aldermen.

I am working with my staff to devise a process by which we will minimize the impact of the furlough days on service delivery in the ward office, and will send you a subsequent e-mail advising you of the plans.

In other business, the only major issue was, once again, the Olympics. Several new ordinances were introduced, including one, which I co-sponsored, which would cap the city's liability for 2016 cost overruns at $500 million.

Another ordinance - introduced at the behest of the Daley Administration by Alds. Edward Burke and Patrick O'Connor - called for the Chicago Civic Federation to review Chicago's Olympic bid. This ordinance was clearly a reaction to calls by me and others for an independent, third-party analysis of the 2016 Olympic Committee's cost and revenue estimates and the insurance policies allegedly designed to protect the city against cost overruns.

Ald. Burke acted quickly, moving to suspend the city council rules to immediately consider this ordinance. The brief debate which followed illustrates yet another example of the need for oversight at every step in the city's legislative process.

I carefully reviewed the proposed ordinance and noticed it did not require a review of the Olympic-loss insurance policy, so I offered that as a friendly amendment.

Hoots and calls came from several other aldermen on the floor.

"No, that's already included!" they yelled out.

But it wasn't.

Most of my aldermanic colleagues are so defensive of the mayor that they will automatically defend his Administration if anyone dares to bring up even an accurate criticism.

Ultimately, my amendment was accepted, creating a stronger ordinance in the process.

I voted for the final version of the proposed ordinance with some trepidation. The Civic Federation has been widely praised for its annual reviews of the city budget. They never pull any punches. But the Federation clearly has a pro-business bias, and most of its board members are business leaders who are supportive of the Olympic bid.

Nonetheless, the Civic Federation and its executive director, Lawrence Msall, have a reputation for integrity, and I decided to support the ordinance as the only realistic opportunity for another set of eyes to review the Olympic committee's numbers.

The next meeting of city council will be held on Wednesday, July 29th at 10 a.m.



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Posted on July 15, 2009


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