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Infrastructure Bank Critics Have A New Villain And His Name Is Joe "Proco" Moreno

If there were any doubts that Mayor Rahm Emanuel's infrastructure bank proposal had been revised into an acceptable form and looked much better after an extra six days to think about it, those doubts were dispelled on Monday's Chicago Tonight. I'm convinced more than ever that this is a very bad idea.

Further, the mayor and his city council allies - growing by the minute after mysterious closed-door meetings of the sort that are usually a one-way exchange of threats and promises - have upped the ante on how disingenuous they are willing to be in handing over to Emanuel an unprecedented level of power to create a legacy that will either ultimately dissipate into dust or get dumped onto the taxpayers long after Rahm is gone.

But don't just take it from me. Take it from, say, the city's inspector general, Joe Ferguson. In a letter he wrote at aldermanic request, Ferguson writes that the infrastructure bank as currently structured "will only lead to legal disagreement and conflict down the road that will undermine public confidence in the integrity of this potentially beneficial program," according to the Tribune editorial board, which echoes the IG's call to fix the mayor's proposal before passing it.

Ferguson thus joins both the Tribune editorial board, the Crain's editorial board, the Better Government Association, the Sun-Times editorial board as well as the Grassroots Collaborative in opposing Rahm's plan. What a coalition!

Unfortunately, the Chicago City Council is still the Chicago City Council. And nobody on the council, by the way, is clowning as hard in the final hours as Ald. Joe Moreno.

Let's take a look.

*

On the aforementioned Chicago Tonight broadcast, host Phil Ponce asked Ferguson about the problems he had identified with the infrastructure bank's proposed structure. Ferguson said he had found just five: Process, procedure, oversight, criteria and transparency.

Anything else?!

Ponce zeroed in on three trouble areas highlighted by Ferguson: If the city's ethics ordinance would apply to the trust; if the state's Freedom of Information Act would apply to the trust; and if the city inspector general would have jurisdiction over the trust. Ponce said a letter from the city's law department stated that all three would indeed apply. Poor Ponce.

"With all due respect, that's not what the letter says," Ferguson said.

According to Ferguson, the city's letter says he would have jurisdiction over city projects funded by the trust, but not over the trust itself nor projects built under the auspices of the city's sister agencies, such as the CTA, CPS, and the park district.

The law department also says that the trust would fall under the ethics ordinance insofar as it will be defined as a city agency, though that designation doesn't seem to apply in all circumstances, such as FOIA. The city, Ferguson says, commits to meeting the requirements of FOIA and the state Open Meetings Act, but as a non-profit that's simply a good-faith gesture and nothing that can be enforced by law.

It's folly to accept that on faith when the city already isn't complying with FOIA as it is; hell, aldermen voting on the trust haven't been able to pry documents out of the city, much less journalists. And Ferguson, too, is already dealing with an uncooperative City Hall over matters where his jurisdiction is clear.

None of which stopped Moreno from blithely repeating the company line in the next segment with Ald. John Arena.

Moreno contended the trust would abide by FOIA, but Arena pointed out that without an enforcement mechanism that's just an empty promise not borne out by history.

Moreno contended alderman had had plenty of time - six weeks - to consider Rahm's proposal, but Arena pointed out that "for four weeks we had nothing" from City Hall regarding requests for information. (If aldermen aren't getting information now, what makes them think they'll get it when Rahm doesn't need their votes anymore?)

Moreno pointed out that the current proposal includes 16 amendments, but no one pointed out that many of those changes are cosmetic, such as providing a "mission statement" for each project the trust funds.

Moreno complained that he and his colleagues hardly had enough time to consider an alternative ordinance put forth by Arena and others, given that they just received it on Friday. "I don't know how it's not hypocritical to ask for a vote tomorrow on something I just got yesterday," Moreno said.

Which only inadvertently proved the point that the six-day delay was nonsense and aldermen needed more time to consider the matter.

"That was the time-frame given by the mayor!" Arena spluttered.

Moreno then contended that trying to "perfect" the ordinance was what he called Goldilocks politics - trying to find the exact right pillow to sleep on. Others might call it legislating.

"I'm a pragmatic progressive," Moreno said.

I'm not sure what that is, but my guess is this: I say progressive things and you believe that I believe them but I always vote with the regular Machine Democrats, rendering my purported progressivism moot.

Next it was moderator Carol Marin's chance to set Moreno straight.

Citing the city's suddenly discovered infrastructure crisis, Moreno said, "Unless this body has the stomach to raise taxes, we can't bond our way out of it."

"Sure you can! Sure you can!" Marin yelled.

And then Moreno hauled out the hoary cry of yore, spouted by some of the most vile aldermen - as well as the forgotten former mayor Richard M. Daley - to any city council member daring to raise questions and/or build a better ordinance: "If you're against this measure, don't bring projects back to your ward then!"

Wow. So if an alderman voted against a mayor's budget proposal, the right thing to do would be for them to forgo any city funding for the next year?

*

It continued.

Moreno contended FOIA would apply to the trust, but Marin said it wouldn't.

Moreno said the council would have oversight, but Marin pointed out that that wouldn't apply to sister agencies, who, after all, are highly likely to be involved.

"We should not have oversight into the Chicago Park District, over the CTA," Moreno then said. "We've pushed back; this is a good compromise."

Marin: "You were against it before you were for it. Then you met with the mayor. What happened in that meeting?"

Moreno never answered that question. But even when Moreno was - sort of - against the proposal, he was against it in such a hedgy way that it was clear he would eventually be for it. Which is actually the way he started. That's his way.

"I was against it because there wasn't enough time," Moreno said last night. "More time was given."

That's just not true.

On April 5, Moreno wrote this to his constituents in an e-mail:

My biggest reservation about this proposal is that it creates a panel, which is solely appointed by the Mayor. I strongly feel that Aldermen need a say on who sits on this panel and what projects are chosen to receive funding.

The Mayor's office has briefed Aldermen only once so far and I expect to receive much more detail about the plan. As with most things, the facts are crucial and I have many questions that I want answered before I'll agree to vote for the plan. However, as it stands, I'm inclined to support it, but would like to get your opinion.

Then on April 16, Moreno wrote again under the headline Defend Public Tax Dollars - Demand Transparency - Secure a Public Voice:

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my concerns with the Infrastructure Trust Ordinance in this newsletter and asked for feedback, which was overwhelmingly critical of the plan.

Since then, I have discussed the attributes and pitfalls of the Ordinance with many of you. Chicago faces billions of dollars in infrastructure needs (our roads, parks, and schools are in great need of repair). We cannot rely on city bonds and I do not support raising taxes on Chicagoans to fill this multi-billion dollar hole. The Trust is being proposed to attract private dollars to fix our public needs.

On its face, it all sounds good. But, the devil is in the details and the original ordinance failed to address many of my, and your, original concerns.

Below are some points of discussion I have had with my colleagues and the Mayor's administration. The proposed ordinance still does not include these requirements. But, I have been told that these points, which many aldermen (including me) have demanded, will be included in the final ordinance.

I am a member of the Finance Committee, which will be debating the ordinance this morning and if the below points are not included I will vote against this Ordinance today.

-The prior approval of City Council shall be required for any transaction to be undertaken by the Trust that seeks to utilize present or anticipated funds, revenues, assets or properties of the City.

-Any project undertaken by the City with funding received from, or provided by, the Trust will comply with City Procurement rules and policies.

-Repayment of any moneys provided by the Trust to finance or support any infrastructure project will not be a general obligation of the City and will not be secured by the city's full faith and credit.

-At least one of the Voting Members of the Trust shall be a member of the City Council.

-The Trust will provide public notice of its meetings and conduct its meetings in accordance with the Illinois Open Meetings Act AND provide public access to all records, minutes and documents in accordance with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Thank you for your input over the last few weeks. Obviously, we need to invest in Chicago, but we must do it without privatizing our public assets to the sole benefit of Multinational Banks and Investment Firms.

Moreno actually didn't vote in committee; he had to leave to pick up his daughter from school. (It was reported that 10 alderman on the committee didn't vote, but if this is up-to-date, I count 17 who didn't vote. The proposal passed 11-7.)

Moreno then indicated that the trust ordinance can always be amended in the future.

"Why not pass an ordinance that doesn't need amending?" Marin asked.

"Because I'm not aware of any ordinance that isn't amendable," Moreno answered.

Okay, then.

*

Moreno also insisted that taxpayers will never be on the hook for any project that, say, fails or runs way overbudget. Marin - and Arena - begged to differ.

"If business fails on this, is it clear who bails out the business interests?" Marin asked.

"If we're extending the Red Line," Arena answered, "if it's going bad, they will walk away and we'll be stuck with a half-built project and we'll have to go in there and finish it."

Moreno's response?

"I get tired of the council saying No, No, No for political expediency."

Huh? When has the council said No? And how is that politically expedient? Just arrive from Bizarro Chicago?

"It does provide those protections."

How?

Nobody knows.

*

Finally, Moreno credited Rahm with giving the council six more days to consider the proposal by having Ed Burke defer the vote. When Marin pointed out that dissident aldermen were going to defer the vote for even longer but Rahm beat them to it, Moreno said "Nobody had the stomach to [do] that."

Really? The No, No, No council didn't have the stomach to delay the vote on its own?

Arena: "Please."

-

See also: The [Infrastructure Bank] Papers (Or, Smells Like Teen Parking Meters)

-

Comments welcome.



Permalink

Posted on April 24, 2012


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