Our Lazy Alderman

A new report from WBEZ-The Daily Line proves once again that Debra Silverstein is one of the laziest aldermen in the City. Silverstein attended only 56% of meetings of various committees and the City Council between May 2015 and December 2018. Silverstein managed to attend 200 of 360 meetings to earn her $10,000 per month salary. The average attendance rate for aldermen was 65%..

At both recent forums and in her campaign literature, she claims to be a hardworking alderman, “fighting” for money for the 50th Ward. At the Feb. 10 forum, she claimed that being alderman is “a 24/7 job,” and at the earlier forum said that people stop her while she’s shopping in Evanston to discuss ward problems.

Time to review.

Silverstein holds open office hours once per week for two hours. Should that time be cancelled due to holidays, it is not rescheduled. But you can call her office, maybe speak with her or arrange an appointment. Or wait til next week.

Silverstein rarely holds community meetings, preferring to communicate via her weekly Newsletter, where more space is devoted to pictures of herself than to discussions of Ward or City business.

Silverstein attended only 31% of 2016 budget committee hearings, according to a report from Illinois Policy. Continue reading, and you’ll learn that between May 2015 and May 2017, the City Council spent more time and effort on honorary resolutions (8%) than on “substantive” legislation (1.5%)–you know, matters of public policy.

Silverstein was the only alderman who failed to attend the only North Side hearing on police reform. Instead, she scheduled a property tax seminar with Larry Suffredin for that night. She could have rescheduled the seminar, or let Suffredin handle it on his own, but chose, as always, the less important task on which to spend her time.

Silverstein says in her most recent campaign piece that she “directed” sewer cleaning, pothole patching, tree trimming, and rat extermination in our Ward. We have entire City departments devoted to those tasks under the management of well-paid department heads. But Silverstein is one of only 50 people who can initiate or vote on City legislation.

A 56% attendance rate at committee and Council meetings is not acceptable. Since Silverstein’s too lazy to do the job to which she was elected, maybe we should allow her to retire. Now.

 

 

 

 

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Having It Both Ways

Debra Silverstein says a lot of things about what a good job she’s done for the 50th Ward. Most of them are not true. In some cases, she tries to associate herself with–and thereby claim credit for–routine City services, like sewer cleaning and tree trimming. In other cases, she claims credit for the vision and work of others, as she does with the new Northtown Library / senior apartments. Silverstein still can’t bring herself to utter the words “LEARN Coalition,” but it was this group of neighborhood improvement activists who actually deserve the credit for bringing a new library to this neighborhood.

Silverstein’s latest exercise in artful political lying arrived in my mailbox yesterday. This one is about how she votes against “…any budget that included a property tax hike…” and will “…continue to hold the line against any new middle-class taxes.” Yes, she has voted against budgets with property tax increases. But she’s voted for the tax increases themselves. (See my earlier post for details.)

If she had any political courage or any real convictions, she’d vote against both the budget and the tax levies that fund it.

Silverstein wants to have it both ways. As usual.

Take the Laquan McDonald case.

Silverstein voted to pay the family of Laquan McDonald $5.5M so they wouldn’t sue the City for his death, effectively allowing Rahm to keep the video of the shooting from the public. Every alderman who voted for the settlement knew about the video and what it showed. There was no discussion in the City Council when the settlement in the matter “In re Estate of McDonald” was presented. As she has in settlement after settlement after settlement,  Silverstein asked no questions  and voted to pay the money. When a judge ordered the video released, Silverstein claimed in her weekly newsletter that she was shocked by what it revealed. Really? It begs the question:

If she didn’t know about the video, why did she vote for the hush money? If she did know about the video, where was her conscience?

Silverstein recently said that she is a strong supporter of working-class families and looks forward to negotiating with Chicago’s labor unions during her next term. But which side will she be representing? True, the taxpayers pay her $120,000 year for her part-time job. That’s roughly a half million dollars every term, or just under $1M for the past eight years.

But over the past 8 years, UNITE Here has donated $42, 464 to Silverstein, while its Local 1 has contributed another $28,268. SEIU Illinois PAC has given her $14,397. The Chicago Land Operators Joint Labor-Management PAC donated $12,293, and AFSME Local 31 has given Silverstein $12,000. The Chicago Teachers Union has given her $6,500.

That’s roughly a year’s salary in political donations right there. Add the money she’s received from Rahm over the past eight years–a staggering $90,000–and the money donated by Ira’s senatorial  campaign ($12,500) and the 50th Ward Democratic organization ($7,650). Silverstein has received almost two years salary from six unions, the mayor, her husband, and the 50th Ward Democratic organization he controls.

Do you really believe she’s representing the people of the 50th Ward? Or her donors?

These amounts do not include funds received from local merchants and other businesses.

Machine politicians find it easy to raise money from organizations and people they insist are NOT looking for favors, while finding it nearly impossible to locate funding for basic public services without raising taxes and/or fees. 

Responding to a question raised by the Burke scandal  about whether  staff member should have outside jobs , Silverstein recently told a Chicago newspaper in her endorsement questionnaire that she “…would not employ staff who have outside jobs or contracts with entities that do business with the city.” Yet her campaign manager, Keith Sokolowski, is also a Community Relations Commissioner for the Village of Niles, and spent the last 18 months as an organizer for now-Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

This is why political reform is so hard to enact. Machine politicians like Silverstein get re-election help from professionals with ties to special interests and a strong interest in keeping things as they are. Special interests are where the money is. Silverstein has more than $212,000 in her campaign fund.

Her closest competitor is Andrew Rowlas, who has less than $3,000.

 

Follies Truth Squad: Silverstein Campaign Mailer, Part II

Any alderman who claims tree trimming as a major accomplishment should not be running for reelection.

The overall impression conveyed by the claims listed in Ald. Silverstein’s newsletter/campaign mailer is that she invests most of her time in relatively trivial pursuits rather than doing the hard work of creating an economic development plan, leading the way on community empowerment, and providing the leadership the ward so desperately needs. Among her many failures on the major issues:

  • Silverstein has failed to deliver the “spirited economic development plan” for California, Devon, Touhy, and Western Avenues that she promised in 2010. She’s had eight years to do so.
  • Silverstein has stubbornly refused to bring participatory budgeting to the 50th Ward, despite widespread neighborhood support, and actively tried to prevent a nonbinding referendum from making the ballot, hiring her elections attorney to challenge the wording of the PB petition and fight the issue before the Chicago Board of Elections. Instead of granting the community a voice in how the $1.3M menu money is used, she spends it all on her major obsession–potholes
  • Silverstein never engaged the community in what she now claims was one of her major priorities–a new Northtown Library. She should have led the community in its attempts to replace the crumbling structure on California with a new building, but she did nothing except discourage neighborhood residents who approached her about doing so. The LEARN Coalition was organized as a direct response to her lack of interest and succeeded in bringing the neighborhood’s needs to the attention of the Chicago Public Library Board and the Mayor’s Office. Silverstein was not the driving force behind the new library, despite her claims otherwise. She refuses to acknowledge that LEARN led the way.
  • Silverstein has failed to attract significant numbers of new businesses to the ward. She has failed to create the business districts that would support the idea of West Ridge being “The International Marketplace,” as its marketing campaign claims. The new campaign, “On Devon,” is built on the fantasy that there are a wide variety of shops selling a vast array of unique goods . In fact, most stores on Devon are small grocers, beauty shops, and cell phone stores. Touhy Avenue is commercially barren, with blocks of vacancies. Western has many vacancies as well.

Yet Silverstein brags about “improving our local businesses” by hanging banners and attending meetings of the Chamber of Commerce and the SSA.  She doesn’t just meet “regularly” with the SSA, she controls it. The poor decisions it makes are made in her office, with Silverstein  in attendance. She chooses the commissioners, who are technically appointed by the Mayor. The hodgepodge of community programs it offers (Movie in the Parking Lot, Devon’s Got Talent) are poorly conceived and executed.

I’ve discussed the new library extensively in various posts. One  important point needs to be reiterated:

  • Silverstein appointed a secret advisory committee to help her make decisions on the library’s final design. Its members were appointed nearly two years ago, but to this day Silverstein refuses to disclose who they are. They were sworn to secrecy by her and forbidden to discuss their deliberations or reveal the names of fellow committee members to anyone. This is public business. Why the need for secrecy?

The Devon Avenue streetscape, her other major accomplishment, is a disaster.

  • The street is now so narrow that it slows traffic and creates constant traffic jams
  • The lack of police foot patrols from Talman to Western–the main shopping area on Devon–has left drivers feeling free to park or stand in bus lanes, forcing passengers to board and exit the bus in the street, while the bus blocks traffic  Many vehicles park or stand in crosswalks while waiting for shoppers inside the grocery stores
  • Many drivers park parallel to the curb bump-outs, and it is impossible for two lanes of traffic to pass each other.
  • Devon is an environmental disaster. The BGA recently released a report on the most polluted areas of Chicago. Because the business model on Devon requires that shoppers be recruited from outside the neighborhood, vehicular pollution is high. You’d think the alderman who claims educating the neighborhood’s children as yet another of her “priorities” would show some concern for the toddlers in daycare centers and the kids in our local schools. Ha! Silverstein’s busy looking for potholes and counting sawed-off tree limbs
  • The sidewalks are simply filthy. Many are stained by pan, a mixture of beetle juice, herbs, and often tobacco that is chewed and spit all over the place. The stains on the new sidewalks are permanent, and the seating areas disgusting. I call them sit-and-spit areas. Pan is banned in India and Canada, among other nations, because its use is unsanitary and indelible. It’s allowed on Devon, and sold by a significant number of stores. The alderman doesn’t care.
  • The streetscape design did not include trash cans in the seating areas, so garbage is dumped in planters and on / under seating

Notice that Silverstein takes credit for attending parades, “Iftar dinners,” and claims she participated in soccer games and the World Cup Final. That’s a sight I’d like to see. But however clumsy the wording, labeling these activities as “celebrat[ing] all our cultures” is ridiculous. I’ve always said she excels at the ceremonial aspects of her job–nobody is more willing to pose for pictures–but this is symbolism, not leadership.

Is the Movie in the Park really an example of Silverstein working with the community? Did Silverstein really help produce the Indian Boundary Park Harvest Fest? Or did she simply show up for yet another photo-opp?

It’s worth noting that the alderman with more than $190,000 in her war chest could not find a few hundred dollars to buy turkeys for the poor at Thanksgiving. In eight years in office, Silverstein has never organized a food drive or a coat drive for the less fortunate. Yes, her office collects items for Toys for Tots, veterans, and others, but I’ve never felt that she has any compassion for people less well-off than she is. I reviewed her campaign fundraising expense account, and find she consistently makes only two charitable donations: $200 per month to CJE for transportation for the elderly, and $50 per year for the North Boundary Homeowners League.

Four more years?? With this sorry record??

I think not.

Tomorrow: Part III will focus on Silverstein’s claims regarding public safety

 

Signs of the Times

Are the times a changin’ in West Ridge? There are signs…..

Ira’s office is for rent.

 

 

 

And then there’s Wednesday’s invitation from the alderman to joinTeam Silverstein and help her win re-election. I’ve never received a sadder, more desperate message from a politician. This is the first time she has ever asked the community at large for help, support, and money. I think she realizes it’s not going to be a slam-dunk this time.

But then I went to her new campaign website. It’s basically a rehash of the end-of-year newsletter / campaign puff piece she mailed a couple of weeks ago. Like the mailer, her website gives spin a bad name. (I’ll be addressing the issues raised by that campaign newsletter in a three-part Follies Truth Squad report beginning next Wednesday.)

The more desperate Silverstein becomes the more photos she publishes of herself doing the most routine aspects of her job, like posing for pictures with winning athletic teams, and the kind of hokey, staged photo-opps that embarrass everyone except politicians– posing with police roll calls, donning a hard hat and posing with construction workers. Her new campaign website is full of such malarkey.

There are solid candidates opposing her on the February ballot. They have ideas and plans for the neighborhood, and they are willing and able to discuss them with the community in open forums. Her opponents have been active in community organizations, and have pledged a new era of civic engagement in West Ridge.

Silverstein promises four more years like the last eight. She’s always absent when there’s hard work to do, and always sharp-elbowed when it’s time to claim credit. Her opponents have achievements to share, Silverstein has photos.

This should be an interesting campaign.

 

 

 

Post-Survey Thoughts

So, where were we? Oh, yes. The alderman gave the architects the results of her library survey—the one that showed that 7 out of 10 respondents don’t use the Northtown Library, slightly more than half of respondents (52%) never even visit the Northtown Library, and 76% of the 600 respondents under age 16 voted in favor of a coffee bar but did not support space for the community to meet. She said these results would aid in designing the library we all need and want.

The alderman also stated in her newsletter that the LEARN Survey obtained similar results. It did not. It asked different questions, but even where the questions were comparable, results differ significantly. This is because the LEARN Survey was a serious attempt to gather information from the community, and not a last-minute pastiche of poorly-conceived questions designed to deflect attention from the lack of information coming from the alderman’s office.

Had the alderman been serious about gathering information, she would have taken the time to properly design her survey: First question: Do you use the Northtown Library? “Yes” respondents should have been directed to one set of follow-up questions, “No” respondents to another set. It’s more important for planners to know WHY someone doesn’t use the library than to know that non-users would like to have a coffee bar. It should not be up to the alderman, the architects, or the residents to guess at the reasons people don’t use the Northtown facility; that question should have been part of the survey. If answers are subject to interpretation, then the survey has failed its most important test: Does it tell us what we want to know?

Input from the neighborhood’s children could have been captured by a separate survey designed with them in mind. Children should have a voice in selecting books and media bought for their use, but they should not be voting on the need for a community meeting room.

Whoever thought it a good idea to have the kids take the survey in class or for homework or whatever other reason has done the community a disservice. I’m sure it was meant well, but the overwhelming number of under-16 responses means the survey’s results are distorted and therefore almost meaningless.To disregard the children’s vote is as bad as giving it too much weight. Did the alderman attempt to mitigate the disproportionate response from the youngest group when she sent the results downtown? If so, how? If not, why? Was there any cover letter outlining her interpretation of the results?  Can we see it?

The survey-takers did not include one key demographic—those aged 17 to 25. These young adults are finishing high school, starting or in college or grad school, or just beginning their work lives, seeking jobs and opportunities to help get a start in life. Only seven people in this age range took the survey, and that is simply not representative of the neighborhood.

Transmitting highlights of the survey results to the community via the alderman’s weekly newsletter was in my opinion the wrong way to make the results available. For one thing, not everybody subscribes to her newsletter; for another, those who get print copies don’t have access to the full survey results (the link to those is a “click here” function, not a URL). I had hoped that the alderman and her Advisory Board would take the time to pull the results of her survey and the LEARN survey together so that the community—and the architects—might gather truly useful information that would be fully and fairly considered as the building plans move forward. I had also hoped that the alderman would then discuss these results with residents.

Instead we got an information dump on the weekend before Passover and Holy Week, with the alderman’s Devon office closed for three of the following five work days.

Time is rapidly slipping away and I wonder if it’s already too late for residents to play a significant role in this project. If the building is to be delivered on schedule—December 2018, 20 months from now—you can bet more decisions have already been finalized than we now know. Maybe the quest for  “community input” is nothing more than the sham already suspected.

The last community meeting was on March 20, more than three weeks ago. The “many, many meetings” promised are not being scheduled. Alderman?

 

 

 

 

The Alderman’s Library Survey

Results from the alderman’s survey, released yesterday, make interesting reading.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. According to the alderman’s newsletter, “more than 1,500 people have completed” her survey, reportedly “…a broad and diverse segment of the 50th Ward” including “speakers of all the major languages spoken in the neighborhood….”  [There was a question on the survey asking which languages respondents speak, but the survey itself was available online only in English.] The alderman says that she’s “…given the survey results to the project architects, so they can use your comments and input to design a library that fits the unique needs and desires…” of West Ridge residents.

A closer look at the results reveals that:

  • 68% of respondents don’t use the Northtown Library
    • 32% use a different library
    • 36% don’t use Northtown
    • 32% use Northtown.
  • 52% of respondents don’t even visit the Northtown Library
  • 37% of respondents are over age 50 (555 respondents based on 1,500 total)
    • Their votes were distributed most evenly across choices; the only group to highly rank adult reading space and community meeting rooms as top priorities
    • 63% want an outdoor reading space
    • 56% want a coffee bar
  • 23% of respondents are between ages 16 and 49 (345 respondents) with  (2%, or 7 respondents, between ages 16 – 25)
    • Overwhelmingly in favor of children’s space and technology; fewest votes for community meeting rooms and adult reading spaces (no surprises here–these are the prime parenting years)
    • 73% want an outdoor reading space
    • 63% want a coffee bar
  • 40% of respondents are children 16 and under (600 respondents)
    • Most votes for technology, children’s and teen spaces; very little interest in adult reading space; least interested in community meeting rooms
    • 83% want an outdoor reading space
    • 76% want a coffee bar

This is community input? The alderman passed this along to the architects as what the community wants? A coffee bar chosen by children? Results determined by people who don’t use the library? Who don’t even visit? Who apparently took the survey as a classroom exercise? If we build the coffee bar, will the children come?

I sometimes wonder if the alderman is paying attention to what she’s doing. It’s simply inexcusable to present her survey results to the architects when they are clearly just plain goofy.  It’s irresponsible of her to ignore the results of the LEARN survey, which was not heavily influenced by kids but was taken by thoughtful adults trying to provide serious input on a major community project. Had she gone to the community for input sooner, she might have designed a survey whose results could have been useful in planning the new library.

The alderman should have scrapped her survey results and started over.

Unless we want 600 kids to be the determining factor in what kind of library we get.

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Three Surveys

Three community input surveys about library usage, needs, and desires are currently available online; two are specific to the new Northtown Library, and one is addressed to all library users.

The LEARN Survey
LEARN is the West Ridge coalition that was formed because the community was unable to secure a new library even though the existing library is woefully out of date. LEARN obtained 2,500 signatures on a petition for a new library and presented that petition to the alderman. In February 2017, LEARN launched its online survey, asking West Ridge residents about how they use the library and what they’d like to see improved, added, and eliminated from current services.

Nearly 400 people have responded so far. Not surprisingly, 67% of respondents requested an increase in library hours, with the same number seeing improvement in library offerings as critical. The numbers also indicate widespread support (more than 50% of respondents) for a variety of children’s programming, including arts and crafts; materials that reflect the uncommon diversity of the 50th Ward; computer and technology improvements; and creating a children’s reading area.

Strong needs for more parking and for bicycle racks were also expressed.

Respondents listed as first priorities large-print books, improved technology, an outdoor reading area, Braille books and talking books and movies, separate areas for children and teens so they don’t disturb adult patrons, programs that would bridge age and cultural gaps, more new books, and better-trained staff and librarians.

Many users felt that a wider selection of books was most important, while others stressed the need for a wider variety of children’s books, ESL programming, Arabic-language books, and a dog-friendly area for special reading programs.

The LEARN survey is ongoing.

The Chicago Coalition of Friends of the Library Groups
An exciting new citywide coalition comprised of all the City’s Friends of the Library groups, this organization is the brainchild of Kang Chiu, longtime president of the Friends of the Rogers Park Library. Kang’s leadership led to the creation of the “new” Rogers Park Library on Clark Street at Farwell Avenue; that building replaced a library as outmoded as Northtown’s. The vision for the Coalition of Friends is to help organize Friends groups throughout the City and create a cooperative environment through which such groups could work together on areas of common interest and support one another through partnerships and experience-sharing. The Coalition of Friends’ groups survey was launched in January 2017.

So far, more than 675 responses have been submitted, with 97% of respondents indicating they used the library; more than 95% have library cards. Nearly 50% said they use the Sulzer Library, the Harold Washington Library, and the Library Web site in addition to branch libraries, with more than 70% stating that they use the library on a weekly or monthly basis. An equal number say their visits last an hour or less, but a quarter of all library users say they stay two to four hours per visit.

While at the library, more than half of respondents say they read books and magazines or request holds for library materials. Roughly one-third of all library users request help finding materials, and nearly as many use the free wi-fi service. More than 20% of visitors are attending community meetings or attending workshops and seminars. More than 15% of library users are there to use the free computers, the copiers or scanners, or the audio-visual materials. Almost as many come to the library for children’s story times, to participate in reading or discussion groups, or to attend musical or theatrical performances. Ten percent of users can be found in the study rooms or attending meet-ups for hobbies or using digital content.

Most library users indicated in this survey that they would like to have more books and magazines available, more workshops to continue lifelong learning, more book discussion groups, and, as with the LEARN survey, longer hours. Other users suggested more workshops on health and financial planning as well as homework help.

Most respondents wanted to see library hours increased to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. More than half of all respondents said they would use the library more if it were open longer hours.

Finally, more than half of all respondents would join a Friends of the Library group if one were available.

The Coalition of Friends’ survey is active through the end of April.

Alderman Silverstein’s Survey
The alderman released her survey March 17. She describes the response as “fantastic” but has not released any details yet.

Mysteries of the New Library

The last community meeting on the new library was on March 20. On March 17, the alderman announced that she had formed an advisory committee to work with her on the new development. Two weeks later, she has still not divulged who is on the advisory committee or how they were chosen, nor has she explained why she did not call for volunteers from within the community to serve in that capacity. Why all the secrecy?

The whole project is shrouded in mystery, from the surprise announcement last October to the appointment of a secret advisory board two weeks ago. There have been two community meetings, which yielded no answers other than this-hasn’t-been-decided or that’s-still-on-the-table. The meetings are supposedly an opportunity for the community to provide input, but how can that be done when nobody knows anything and nobody in authority is taking notes? Did you notice that? Not a single staff member from the library, the CHA, or the alderman’s office could be seen taking notes. This suggests that everything has already been decided, the community meetings are mere window dressing.

Take the building design. The mayor chose which neighborhood would get which design, and the selection for West Ridge is too modern to complement the traditional architectural standards of our neighborhood. The alderman clearly got a lot of calls about it, because CHA’s Eugene Jones announced at the start of the last meeting that this was not the final design. What??? The mayor himself personally called members of the press to tout the designs, according to the Tribune‘s Blair Kamin. Is the design really subject to change?

Take the selection of residents for senior housing. Jones said he’d open the housing applications for the building in January 2018.  In response to a direct question from me about why West Ridge seniors already on the CHA waitlist have to reapply, he replied that those already waiting may not be “certified,” whatever that means. I didn’t understand his explanation. The way the system is supposed to work is that, once you’re approved for CHA housing, you go on a waitlist and get a unit when your turn comes up. Why should anyone have to re-apply? Jones joked that, since he’s turning 62 this year, if an apartment comes up he’d get it before anyone else. Funny. But, if true, that’s exactly the kind of political influence that we should guard against. Nobody should get an apartment in this development because they know or support the alderman or other political figures, or because politically-connected groups recommend them for residency. Will the secret advisory board help choose the residents? This is a serious matter that requires serious oversight, perhaps from the courts. There should be no political influence determining who gets housing.

Nobody knows what the secret advisory board is discussing. The alderman has no page on her bare-bones Web site dealing with the most important building project to occur in West Ridge since the Devon street scape. No minutes of any meetings. No names of any advisors. No numbers on the “fantastic responses to the 50th Ward Library Survey,” as touted in this week’s aldermanic newsletter. No mention of the LEARN Coalition library survey. No transparency, as usual.

And still no sign on the pile of rubble that will become the new library announcing that  there are, in fact, big plans for the site.

It’s hard to move forward when you’re covering your tracks.

 

 

What Does “Community Input” Mean in Chicago?

So much for community input. Late on Saturday the Mayor released drawings of the new library-senior housing building to be constructed at Pratt & Western. The alderman’s community input meeting is scheduled for tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Warren Park.

The alderman carefully says that what the community will give is “feedback” on the “current design.”  The lack of transparency in decision-making in Chicago, especially in the 50th Ward, has never been more obvious than in the matter of the new Northtown Library. Don’t expect any more transparency when we get to the matter of repurposing the old library, either.

We are stuck with a concept nobody asked for, a design competition with no conversations between the designer and the ultimate users, and a soon-to-be vacant public building whose next use will be or has been decided behind closed doors. Whatever the residents of West Ridge want is not as important as the need for political razzle-dazzle set to coincide with the 2019 elections.

The alderman’s role in all this is far from clear. Was she an active player? Did she speak for the neighborhood when the Mayor decided his bold concept overrode neighborhood needs? Or was she as surprised as everybody else to learn of his plans? As late as December 2015 the alderman had proposed a zoning change for the site approving it for automotive use. [Ord 02015-8470, introduced December 9, 2015; referred to City Council Zonong Committee; still pending.] How much in the loop was she if a mere ten months later the site was designated as the site of the new library? It’s also worth asking whether the City or one of its agencies has acquired the property yet.

Who asked for senior housing? Was the library-cohousing idea a concept in search of a site? Did our need for a new library mesh with the mayor’s need to create excitement to deflect attention from an increasingly dysfunctional and violent city? Was the rush to complete the building tied to the 2019 municipal elections, whose candidates will include both the alderman and the mayor?

Why didn’t anyone, including the alderman, discuss this concept with residents before the design competition?

I decided to look at the public record and create a timeline of what happened when. The information below is taken from public statements, press releases, news reports, and the alderman’s newsletter.

February 2015             LEARN (Library Enhancement and Renewal Network) Coalition formed by concerned individuals and community groups  seeking to bring a new library to West Ridge

March – Dec 2015      LEARN members begin to educate public on need for a new
library, create a Web site and Facebook page; meet with alderman

June – Aug 2016         LEARN members gather 2,500 signatures on petition in support of a new library

September 2016          LEARN leadership meets with alderman and presents petition

October 21, 2016        Mayor announces library-senior housing building to be constructed at Pratt & Western Avenues

October 21, 2016        Alderman reiterates announcement in email to residents (email includes picture)

October 28, 2016        Alderman reiterates Mayor’s announcement (newsletter includes picture)

November 4, 2016      Alderman announces community meting on November 14

November 11, 2016    Alderman reminds community of November 14 meeting

November 14, 2016    Alderman emails community meeting reminder; holds well-attended meeting; does not mention the work of LEARN Coalition. Says this is the first of “numerous community meetings” she plans to hold about library; later refers to       “…many, many meetings” to come; states “this is not the last meeting.” Meeting is attended by CHA and CPL officials, who offer handout demonstrating what library and housing units “could” look like. No specifics on either; alderman and both officials repeatedly state that “everything is on the table” and “we’ll figure it out.” LEARN Coalition Chair speaks at meeting and stresses need for “consistent communication,” asks that all parts of the community be involved in decision-making, and volunteers LEARN to help coordinate outreach efforts

November 18, 2016      Alderman reports on November 14 community meeting; does not mention LEARN Coalition (newsletter includes two pictures).

December 30, 2016      Alderman recaps 2016; mentions new library (newsletter includes picture)

January 20, 2017          Alderman announces Jan. 30 community input meeting

January 27, 2017          Alderman announces postponement of Jan. 30 meeting

February 27 , 2017        LEARN leaders meet with alderman, advise of LEARN survey, reiterate willingness to help gather community input

March 2, 2017                LEARN finalizes online community input survey, which is then released via email; survey availability announced on social media Web sites, blogs, and other networks

March 3, 2017                Alderman announces library is “proceeding on schedule” and that she “…will hold another public meeting to begin gathering community input, so we can all work together….”

March 10, 2017              Alderman announces March 20 meeting

March 17, 2017              Alderman reminds community of March 20 meeting; provides link to community input survey she developed with her heretofore unknown community “advisory board” but does not announce names of the advisory board’s members; mentions LEARN survey but does not provide link to it

March 17, 2017           Mayor calls various members of the press to talk about the exciting new library-housing designs he is about to release

March 18, 2017            Less than 24 hours after Alderman releases her community input survey, Mayor releases designs for new library-senior housing buildings to press

March 19, 2017            Chicago Tribune publishes drawings of new library designs and story by Blair Kamin, who notes that “…it’s difficult to judge at this stage whether the plans rise to the most important standard for projects of this type. Meeting human needs.” He later adds “What’s troubling is that the rapid-fire [design] competition did not allow for extensive community input. That’s still to come.”

March 20, 2017             Alderman sends email reminding community of meeting. Asks residents to complete library survey that she and her advisory council developed.

March 20, 2017             Meeting to provide community input on Northtown Library at Warren Park at 6:30 p.m.

From November 19, 2016, through March 19, 2017, the alderman did not hold any community meetings to discuss what  residents need and/or want in the new library, did not discuss forming nor ask the community at large for volunteers for her library “advisory board,” did not create any survey tool, and did not accept the LEARN Coalition’s offers of help with community outreach in this matter.  The alderman does not appear to have done anything to encourage the Mayor to step back and talk with residents before this project moved forward. She CHOSE not to speak to residents for four months, during which time she could have funneled our dreams as well as our concerns to the Mayor and the design team.

At no time during this four-month period did the alderman ever call a meeting with West Ridge senior citizens to discuss the new senior housing or to seek input, nor did she contact the City of Chicago’s Aging in Place Program that helps older adults age well within their communities. There was thus no input from older adults on housing supposedly designed with them in mind.

Are we really going to discuss these things NOW, after the building has been designed and the concept locked in place?

So much for community input.

 

 

 

 

Community Meeting for New Library-Senior Housing Building

Last Friday the alderman announced that there will be a community meeting on Monday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m. at Warren Park to discuss the new library-senior housing building to be constructed at Pratt and Western. CHA and Library officials will be present to hear for themselves what West Ridge residents want and need in our new facility.

Please be sure to tell friends and neighbors to attend. The larger the crowd the stronger a signal we send that residents have opinions about the new building and expect to be included in the decision-making.