Chicago mayors have held public hearings to get feedback on the city budget ever since Harold Washington was in office.
But this year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has opted instead to have three small, round-table discussions with certain city residents hand-picked by third-party organizations.
In response, members of the city council’s progressive caucus held the first of three public budget hearings on Monday night. The six aldermen present said it was a way to ensure open and transparent government.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) called the budget a “road map” for the city and said aldermen wanted to hear from residents.
“We want to hear from you. We want to hear what your ideas are on where we should be spending a little bit more money, a lot more money, where we shouldn’t be spending any more money,” Munoz said. “That’s why we’re here.”
Upwards of 150 people gathered at the Copernicus Center on the city’s northwest side. Aldermen did not answer specific questions on the budget but instead took notes as residents aired their concerns about this year’s budget proposal
Comments ranged from requests to close downtown TIF districts to complaints over the city's new red light camera to calls for the city to lower former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s pension.
For many of those who spoke, a common complaint was that Emanuel is privatizing too many city services. One of those complaints came from Stan Polk, a janitor at O’Hare and member of the Service Employees International Union.
Polk said he felt good after the meeting.
“I think we still have to do a lot of work. You can’t just talk,” Polk said. “But information is always helpful.”
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) also said he was pleased, especially with the turnout.
“I heard a lot of great ideas that came from this crowd, and a lot of them I’m going to use,” Fioretti said.
There is one chance for the public to weigh in on the budget in front of the whole city council and Emanuel on October 30th, but Fioretti said he would not call that a public hearing.
“If the mayor sits through the whole thing, if all 50 aldermen sit through the whole thing, that’s a public hearing,” Fioretti said, adding he doubts that will be that case.
The progressive caucus will be hosting two more public meetings on the budget. The next meeting will be at Wells High School, 936 N. Ashland Ave. on October 24th. The third is scheduled for October 30th at South Shore High School, 7529 S. Constance Ave. Both are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
In addition to Fioretti and Munoz, four aldermen attended Monday night’s meeting: Ald. John Arena (45th), Ald. Nick Sposato (36th), Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).
The mayor’s office said the roundtable discussions have proven far more constructive than the larger public hearing. A spokeswoman for the mayor said in the past open hearings often devolved into people shouting at the mayor.