Members of the City Council’s progressive caucus say Mayor Rahm Emanuel has excluded residents from this year’s budget process by not holding public hearings.
On Friday, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) and Ald. John Arena (45th) announced plans to hold three public budget hearings in the coming weeks to field questions about the budget from constituents.
Mayor Richard M. Daley held open hearings on the budget during his time in office. The hearings were a chance for city residents to voice comments, complaints and suggestions.
Emanuel held public hearings last year, but this year, he has opted for smaller roundtable discussions with certain residents selected by third-party organizations. Emanuel has held three such meetings so far. The Mayor’s office also created a website where anyone can comment on the budget or contribute ideas.
But Ald. Fioretti said Chicago has a long history of more public input when it comes to the budget.
“For an administration that has pledged transparency and an open process, they have shut out the public and the taxpayers and other shareholders,” Fioretti said. “The people deserve a voice, and we as aldermen will fill the void and the failure of the administration.”
The Mayor’s office maintains that the smaller roundtable discussions have proven far more constructive. In the past, according to a spokeswoman, open hearings often devolved into people shouting at the mayor.
But Ald. Sposato said public dialogue is necessary for open government, even if open meetings produce some wacky ideas.
“You get some strange people out there, but you get some awesome ideas sometimes too,” Sposato said. “But people just love the opportunity for convenience and a chance to speak.”
Ald. Arena said public hearings were a good way to examine some of the numbers included in the massive budget.
“There are projections of growth and efficiencies that we have to make sure are overly optimistic, and we want to make sure we’re not in a position midyear where we’re seeing layoffs because we haven’t thought this through.”
At least one major Chicago labor union agrees. Tom Balanoff is the president of the Service Employees International Union local 1 which represents janitors, building engineers doormen and window washers. Balanoff said the union has several questions about the budget.
“The mayor promised transparency. Promised that it was going to be open, that it was going to be different, and quite frankly, I think the process that Mayor Daley used in the past was much more open and transparent than this,” Balanoff said.
The times and locations for the public hearings are as follows:
Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. (October 15th); Wells High School, 936 N. Ashland Ave. (October 24th); South Shore High School, 7529 S. Constance Ave. (October 30th).
The hearings are set to start at 6 p.m. and last until 8 p.m. or later. Fioretti said the progressive caucus would invite all 50 aldermen to the public hearings. He was asked if the mayor would be invited as well.
“That may not be a bad idea,” Fioretti said. “Very good suggestion.”