Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Issues Hiring Freeze | WBEZ
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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Issues Hiring Freeze For All City Departments — Including Police

Updated at 12:32 p.m. Aug. 23

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration is ordering a sweeping hiring freeze that will affect all city departments — including police — as she prepares to outline what’s expected to be a dismal fiscal situation next week, WBEZ has confirmed.

The freeze, first reported Friday by the Chicago Tribune, affects about 3,000 open positions, said Kristen Cabanban, a spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Budget and Management. That’s about 9% of the current workforce.

A memo ordering the freeze went out to city department leaders on Tuesday.

“The hiring freeze, in effect until further notice, will allow the Budget Office to take a hard look at our programs, services and operational needs to determine our spending priorities for 2020,” Budget Director Susie Park said in an emailed statement to WBEZ.

“With Chicago facing one of the largest budgetary gaps in recent history, these measures are just one part of a broader approach we must take to restore our finances and put Chicago on a path to a stronger, more secure future," Park said.

The city also is not ruling out worker layoffs, Cabanban said.

Lightfoot, who was sworn in May 20, inherited the city’s serious financial problems. The mayor has said the 2020 budget gap is worse than the $700 million deficit proclaimed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, though she hasn’t said how much worse.

The mayor is expected to lay out the dire fiscal situation when she makes a rare prime-time speech on Thursday.

In the memo sent to all city of Chicago commissioners and department heads Tuesday, Park said the order to halt all hiring comes “in advance of upcoming discussions regarding reductions that will be required for the 2020 Budget.”

Park also noted that “priority positions that directly affect the health and safety of the City’s residents may proceed” with hiring pending special approval. Lightfoot’s administration clarified that could mean certain positions that affect day-to-day city services — such as police, fire and aviation — are filled.

Following a 2016 surge in gun violence, Emanuel and police Superintendent Eddie Johnson proposed a massive expansion of CPD. The police department has steadily been increasing the number of sworn staff members, and there are currently more 13,000 — the most in about a decade.

The Chicago Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kevin Graham, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, responded via email.

"[It] has been our position at FOP that we need to hire more police officers that will help reduce the crime rate," Graham wrote. "Our members are already having trouble getting a day off, with some officers being required to work 11 days in a row. We need to hire more police officers."

A large part of the city’s budget problem is a spike in state-mandated payments to Chicago’s beleaguered pension funds. City Hall’s ante into its pension funds jumps by $121 million next year, and the city will have to come up with about $1 billion more by 2023 in order to keep up with those ever-rising obligations.

The city also faces looming debt service payments and union contracts that it’s still negotiating, which will also likely cost taxpayers.

To pay for pensions, aldermen went along with a series of unpopular tax hikes under Emanuel, and it’s not clear whether they’ll be willing to do so again for Lightfoot.

Ahead of Thursday’s speech, she’s floated the idea of imposing taxes on newly-legalized recreational marijuana, on the sale of homes worth $1 million or more, and on certain professional services.

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