The Menu Money Mess

The City’s Office of the Inspector General.(OIG) has released its audit of aldermanic menu money. OIG reports that the program is underfunded, does not follow the “best practices” recommended by the Government Financial Officers Association, and suffers management difficulties ranging from lack of communication between departments to the inability to develop a comprehensive citywide capital projects planning process.

Each ward’s menu money has remained fixed at $1.32M for the past ten years, while the costs of improvements (materials, labor) have increased. Projects are not prioritized by the City Department of Transportation (CDOT). Instead, each alderman decides which infrastructure improvements will be funded in a given ward—and which will not. Some City residents have a voice in how menu money is spent through participatory budgeting, but most do not. .

CDOT does not allocate funds on the basis of need. Put plainly, the City’s history of disinvestment in poorer wards and CDOT’s insistence on providing each alderman the same amount of menu money means that some areas of the City continue to deteriorate while others can spend on beautification.

In his April 19 letter forwarding the OIG report to the Mayor, aldermen, and other City officials, Inspector General Joseph M. Ferguson was blunt:

“OIG found that the administration of the Menu program does not align with best practices for infrastructure planning ….This audit identified significant concerns related to the City’s planning and management of residential infrastructure. For example, we determined that the allocation of $1.32 million per ward bears no relationship to the actual infrastructure needs of each ward.” [Emphasis added]

OIG recommends that infrastructure planning and repair be handled by CDOT, stating that “CDOT [should] fully inhabit its role in residential infrastructure planning by directly implementing a comprehensive, multi-year strategic capital plan for maintenance and improvement.” CDOT’s response?  “[T]he Department reasserted its general but analytically unsupported belief that current practice provides an “appropriate framework” for addressing core residential infrastructure needs.” [Emphasis added]

OIG also recommends that CDOT conduct a citywide analysis of residential infrastructure needs; and that the City allocate funding per ward based on that need.

The level of incompetence displayed by high-ranking City employees is staggering. Basic management practices are absent. Officials admit they don’t analyze needs or seek information from one another before creating budgets, and don’t measure what, if any, impact the allocated funding has. All the wards get the same amount of money, even if actual needs don’t justify it, because nobody has determined what each ward’s needs are.

Aldermen control infrastructure spending within the limits set by the level of funding the City can afford. The City pays high interest rates on its constant borrowing, leaving little money  available for capital improvement projects. For example, in  the book Chicago Is Not Broke budget expert Ralph Matire notes that, in 2016, 44% of the City budget was consumed by interest payments, while only 19% was allocated to infrastructure improvement.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) in its recent comments on the OIG report compared Chicago to other cities around the country.  In New York, the city’s DOT controls the process and the funding. In Los Angeles, a citywide database is used to track street conditions; resurfacing is determined by both need and cost. Houston and Philadelphia give responsibility for street improvements to their respective DOTs; streets are resurfaced based on need.

Some of the OIG more disturbing findings:

  • CDOT “does not perform comprehensive, long-term analysis to determine annual residential infrastructure needs…. “
  • Office of Management and Budget [OBM] “does not seek input from CDOT regarding estimated residential infrastructure need…”
  • Neither CDOT nor OBM has analyzed whether the menu money meets infrastructure needs.
  • CDOT does not prioritize projects, or insist that capital assets whose repair will increase in cost in future years be addressed first, but leaves decision-making to the aldermen
  • The fact that menu money spending is decided on an annual basis by individual aldermen prevents long-range, comprehensive, citywide infrastructure planning
  • Residential infrastructure needs were not fully met in any of the City’s fifty wards. (Pothole repair don’t count in terms of  infrastructure repair. Potholes are considered a “deficient piece” of a “whole component” ([the street), and do not replace the whole component when filled.).
  • In 2014, aldermen were allowed to spend menu money not only in the ward to which they were elected but also in areas added to their wards in the 2011 ward redistricting, even though the new ward boundaries would not take effect until 2015. {CDOT has accepted OIG’s recommendation that this practice be ended.]
  • Aldermen are permitted to spend menu money on non-infrastructure projects. [CDOT has said this practice will continue as long as rules and regulations governing funding sources are not broken.]
  • Nineteen aldermen failed to comply with CDOT deadlines for submitting menu money spending requests. [CDOT has agreed to enforce submission deadlines.]
  • The best-funded ward is the 46th, which covered 88.5% of its infrastructure needs from menu money, leaving a deficit of $218,563, while the worst-funded, the 34th ward, covered only 15.1% of its infrastructure needs, leaving a deficit of $9.5M. [Menu money does not reflect the size of the ward or the level of infrastructure repair that’s necessary. The 46th ward has only 165.6 street blocks and 80 alley blocks, compared to 888 street blocks and 677.6 alley blocks in the 34th.]
  • Installing a left-turn arrow cost $70,000 per intersection in 2014 (see pages 24-26 for CDOT cost breakdowns for repairs to streets, alleys, etc.)
  • OIG estimated the annualized costs for street and alley repairs over the life cycle of each type of repair. (See details of other repairs/replacements on page 30.)
    • What’s the annual cost of resurfacing a residential street? $4,950 per year for 20 years.
    • An alley?  $3,375 per year for 20 years.
    • Street lighting? $1,464 for 50 years.
    • Curb replacement?  $1,600 per year for 50 years.

Earlier this week I watched from my window as eight City workers planted a single sapling on a neighbor’s parkway. Seven men to dig the hole, stand the tree inside, and put the dirt back. The eighth man drove the forklift. I thought about this again over the past two days while reading the OIG report.

The private sector couldn’t operate this way. The very least a public employee should offer is competence. The very least an employee should expect is  a workplace that has a clearly-defined purpose and goals, and a planned, logical, and reasonable method of achieving those goals. How can a program be created to solve a problem that hasn’t been analyzed? How can a budget be prepared without the kind of basic information needed to establish an efficient and effective spending plan? How can departments working on the same problem not communicate with one another? sn’t anybody in charge?

No wonder so many people are voting with their feet.

____________________________________________________________________

Let’s look at the findings specific to the 50th Ward.

To maintain the 50th Ward’s 383.2 residential street blocks and 304 residential alley blocks, OIG reports that $5,265,165 in menu money was spent from 2012-2015 on residential infrastructure improvements. It was allocated as follows:

  • 91.8%  – Streets
  •  5.91% – Street Lighting
  •  0.8%   – Sidewalks & Pedestrian-Related Projects
  •  1.3%  –  Alleys
  •   0.1% –  Traffic

From 2012-2015, no menu money was spent in the 50th on curbs and gutters, painting, cameras, bike lanes, the Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools, or any other CDOT or non-CDOT project.

In 2015, the cost of maintaining residential street and alley blocks was $4,856,947; menu money covered 34.6% of of that total and ADA-compliance funding another $360,000, leaving a deficit of $3,176,947.

___________________________________________________________________

 

Participatory Budgeting Now in 41st Ward

Ald. Anthony Napolitano has announced that he is instituting Participatory Budgeting (PB) in the 41st ward, giving his constituents the opportunity to vote on how $1 million in public monies will be spent. The 41st thus joins other progressive wards in allowing residents to participate in ward budgeting decisions, a sorry contrast to the 50th, where Ald. Silverstein insists on keeping the public out of monetary matters.

As regular readers of this space know, the push to bring PB to the 50th continues. The coming year will see a series of events to introduce 50th Ward residents to PB, and we will be relaunching the petition to put an advisory referendum on the ballot for 2019. We also intend to make PB an issue in the coming aldermanic race. It’s time for Silverstein to  make PB a reality in the 50th Ward.

Congratulations to residents of the 41st! A progressive, involved, pro-active alderman can accomplish great things by working with the community.

Residents of the 50th can only watch as other wards pass us by on the way to the future.

Free Screening of PBS Documentary on Participatory Budgeting

Alderman Joe Moore is hosting a free screening of a  PBS documentary that features the 49th Ward’s participatory budgeting process. The screening is  Sunday, October 30, from 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the New 400 Theater, 6746 North Sheridan Road. There will be a panel discussion about PB afterwards.

The film, “Count Me In,” was directed and produced by Ines Sommer; she will be one of the four panel participants, along with Cecelia Salinas, the 49th Ward’s PB liaison; Sarah Lisy, former Chair of the 49th Ward’s PB Leadership Team; and Chad Adams, principal of Sullivan High School, where the first student-led PB process took place.

To quote Ald. Moore, “Participatory budgeting is one answer to the question, how do you get citizens, who have become cynical about politics and frustrated with voting, involved in the decision-making process about what government does and how things get done?

The film traces the growth of Participatory Budgeting from its US. beginning in the 49th Ward and shows residents pitching ideas for a variety of projects, including street repairs, bike lanes and community gardens. Projects get researched, proposals crafted, and at the end, the entire community is invited to vote.

“Count Me In” explores the ups and downs of this new tool, offering an engaging, unvarnished look at what it will take to revitalize democracy from the ground up, not just in Chicago, but across the nation.”

Moore described PB as “a process that is changing how we talk about democracy.”

It’s a conversation that needs to continue in the 50th Ward.

PB Petition Off the Ballot

The petition for an advisory referendum to bring participatory budgeting to the 50th Ward did not get the required number of signatures to appear on November’s ballot. The Chicago Board of Elections officially ruled the petition off the ballot yesterday.

We will therefore launch a new petition drive in Spring 2017 to ensure that we make the ballot for the 2019 municipal elections.

The alderman’s claims of neutrality on this issue proved false. A ward resident who was clearly acting as aldermanic surrogate challenged the petition; he was represented by the same lawyer who represented the  objectors to Silverstein’s opponents’ signatures in last year’s aldermanic elections. She doesn’t  fool anybody with these shenanigans, but at least it will cost her some money.

We obtained 466 signatures, about 52% of the total we needed (893). The Electoral Board itself would have disqualified the petition for that reason. But the alderman wanted to be sure the petition would die, so two objections were raised: (1) We did not obtain enough signatures; and (2) “in the alternative,” the petition’s question could not be understood because it was ungrammatical and too long. The “alternative” objection–in case the Board was inclined to break its own rules and allow us on the ballot–was just insurance and easily dismissed. But this is what some politicians pay lawyers to do to keep the citizenry from having an ongoing voice in government.

So much that is positive emerged from this petition drive that I hardly know where to begin the good news:

  • A committed core of volunteers coalesced around this issue and is ready to resume work on next year’s campaign
  • The CBOE, by accepting Silverstein’s lawyer’s argument, has made our task easier–it’s clear now that we need 8% of voters in the ward, not in each precinct
  • In just four short weeks, volunteer petition circulators did a tremendous job, pulling in almost 125 signatures per week–working part-time during a hot and humid Chicago summer for a cause in which they believe
  • We now know firsthand how the process works–as well as how it can be stopped
  • PB is an issue that won’t go away, and neither will the activist citizens who are working on this and many other issues throughout the 50th Ward
  • If the alderman continues to refuse to introduce PB to the ward, it will be a major campaign issue in the 2019 aldermanic race

The PB Steering Committee thanks everyone who supported the drive to bring participatory budgeting to our ward.  Special appreciation goes to our organizers and petition circulators. And to those who signed–fully understanding the issue and the question as stated on the petition–thank you!

The alderman apparently thinks her constituents are too stupid to understand what they’re doing in asking for a say in spending the menu money. Rumors were spread in the immigrant community, for example, that the petition was an attack on the alderman. If you’ve lived under a repressive government, you don’t want to do anything to call attention to yourself, so this kind of whispering campaign works–once. Among another group of residents, a refusal to sign was often accompanied by the statement that we shouldn’t take “her” money away, but pressure her to spend it differently. Her money?

Residents of the 50th Ward are mobilizing around a host of issues that they understand and care about. PB is just one of them.

Silverstein can get on board, or be left behind. But she can’t stop the train.

Sign the Petition(s) at National Night Out!

Tonight is National Night Out, an event designed to bring neighbors and police officers together to build community, fight crime, and have some fun. There will be events for the kids, prizes, food, and a chance to meet and get to know your neighbors..

Petitions in support of participatory budgeting will be available at three of the 50th Ward’s four events: at Green Briar, Indian Boundary, and Warren Parks. Some petition circulators will also have petitions in support of LEARN, the citizen initiative to build a new library in West Ridge.

Support your community and your police officers, sign the petitions, and enjoy a good night out with friends and family!

 

PB, the New Library, & More….

This week’s edition of dna info West Ridge gives prominence to the petition drive to bring participatory budgeting (PB) to the 50th Ward. Under the banner headline “Residents Want Say on 50th Ward Budget,” Linze Rice details our story. If you missed the print edition, you can read the story here.

PB is democracy in action, not an attack on the alderman, not an attempt to usurp her statutory authority, not a comment on her leadership. It is a positive action designed to involve residents in ward decision-making. It has been successful in eight other wards, where citizens chose a variety of projects to fund, from community gardens to street lighting to improved access to public buildings for the disabled. Yes, we need to have the potholes filled, and, as part of the PB process, residents can choose to continue to spend all or part of the Ward’s menu money doing just that.

But the community may choose other options. For example, to date there has been no funding available for a feasibility study for the new library that West Ridge so desperately needs. But the amount is so small in relation to the menu money–about $30,000–that it could easily be appropriated through the PB process–and we’d be one step closer to making that new library a reality!

Have you signed the petition yet? If not, there are still several ways to do so.

Contact us at Ladymurphy1@yahoo.com. We are working throughout the neighborhood, and chances are we have a petition circulator near you or a volunteer who can stop by a your convenience.

You can attend National Night Out on Tuesday, August 2. Petition circulators will attend the events at Green Briar and Warren Parks.

You can come to the Northtown Library this week. On Monday and Wednesday, we’ll be inside from 10 a.m. until Noon. On Tuesday and Thursday, we’ll be inside from Non until 2 p.m. We’ll be stationed at Computer #2 all four days (that’s the large-screen computer facing the Circulation Desk). On Saturday, August 6, we will be in the library’s meeting room between 9 a.m. and Noon. Sunday, August 7, is the last day to sign; please contact us via email, Ladymurphy1@yahoo.com to sign the petition then.

The signed and notarized petitions are due at the Chicago Board of Elections on Monday, August 8. After that, petition signatures can be challenged by PB opponents, and then we’ll have an opportunity to respond to those challenges.

We’ll keep you posted on what happens.

 

 

Two More Weeks!

We have two more weeks to achieve our goal!

Volunteers have been working hard to secure enough signatures to add our referendum to November’s ballot. These last two weeks are critical – remember, we need signatures from 8% of the registered voters in each precinct to qualify for the ballot.  All signed and notarized petitions are due at the Chicago Board of Elections on August 8.

Have we missed you? Are you ready to sign? Are you able to work a few hours to help with the final push? Can you knock on a few doors in your building or on your block? Would you be able to pick up a few signatures at worship services this weekend? Let us know by e-mailing Ladymurphy1@yahoo.com. We can get one or more petitions to you fast.

Petition circulators will be at the Northtown Library from 9-11 a.m. this Saturday, July 23, and at the Jewel on Howard this Sunday from 1-5 p.m. as well as in various precincts, so le us know if you’ll be home and ready to add your name to the petition.

Help make participatory budgeting a reality in the 50th Ward!

And thanks.

How Was Menu Money Spent Citywide From 2012-2014?

Participatory budgeting (PB) gives residents a voice in how their ward’s menu money is spent.  The attached reports detail menu money spending in all fifty wards for 2012, 2013, and 2014. As you’ll see, the money can be spent solely on infrastructure improvements, such as lighting, trash cans, speed bumps, alley aprons, park improvements, and street resurfacing.

It’s interesting to compare the spending ward by ward, and to see the difference that citizen participation makes in those wards, like the 49th, where the process is resident-driven.

More information about PB and how it has worked since 2012 can be found here.

2012 MM

2013 MM

2014 MM

Sign the PB Petition at Tonight’s Public Safety Meeting

Tonight the alderman is sponsoring a public safety meeting so the West Ridge community can meet Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and the commanders of the two police districts that protect West Ridge residents, Roberto Nieves of the 24th and Elias Voulgaris of the 17th.

Petition circulators will be available outside the Horwich Center so you can sign the petition in support of participatory budgeting if you haven’t already done so. You will need to know which precinct you live in, and that info’s available on your voter’s card. We’ll be on the sidewalk rather than on the Horwich property so as not to be in the way as people enter the building.

The meeting is at the Horwich JCC, 3003 West Touhy, at 7 p.m. tonight.

Voting in Participatory Budgeting

Who can sign the petition to add participatory budgeting (PB) to the November ballot?
Only registered voters in the 50th Ward can sign the petition.

Who can be on the leadership team?
Any ward resident or local business owner can volunteer for the leadership team and make a case for his/her inclusion to the project oversight team. There is no set formula for representation (i.e., members are not selected by racial, ethnic, or religious group or by sex). What will matter is the volunteer’s willingness to work long hours without compensation to learn about and subsequently guide the process through its birthing phase.  The leadership team simply won’t work unless it is as inclusive as possible so everyone can expect a fair and equitable process for choosing leadership team members..

Who can take part in choosing projects, developing proposals, and voting?
All 50th Ward residents over the age of 14, parents with children who attend 50th Ward schools, and 50th Ward business owners can help select the projects eligible for menu money spending. Voters formerly had to be 18 or older, but this has been changed to help adolescents develop a sense of civic responsibility.

Non-citizens, including undocumented immigrants, can also vote to choose and fund projects. This is a contentious issue. It is true that menu money come from taxpayers, and those residents in the country illegally do not pay income taxes. However, they do pay other taxes (sales tax, for example). It cannot be denied that ALL residents have an interest in neighborhood improvement.

PB therefore does not distinguish between citizens and noncitizens. What matters is one’s residency and commitment to the community of West Ridge.

I don’t like all these kids and foreigners having a say in what happens to my tax dollars.
Many people would agree with you. Some think the kids are too young to be involved, while others believe that giving the undocumented such access is a good reason not to support PB. But consider this:

Young people have responded strongly to the idea of bringing PB to the ward. Recent grammar school graduates, high schoolers, and other young people are eager to play a role in making the 50th Ward stronger and improving the neighborhood in general. Many are disappointed that they cannot sign the petition. Their enthusiasm for participatory democracy reflects the highest American ideals of citizenship.

According to U.S. Census data, 10% to 12% of all West Ridge residents are in the United States without authorization–approximately 7,200 to 8,600 residents, based on the current West Ridge population estimate of 72,000 residents. Many more residents have green card status–they are permanent residents but not U.S. citizens. Permanent residents pay income taxes. Chicago is a recognized Sanctuary City, which means that citizenship is not a requirement for access to or participation in municipal governance.

PB grants access to all members of the community without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, sex, or citizenship status. PB recognizes instead the common welfare–the improvement of ward infrastructure–to which all residents contribute.

My project lost–I feel like my vote didn’t count. Now what?
Only a few projects will be funded. Some of those that won the most support from the voters may not move forward because of cost increases, for example, or because they have been proposed by a City department and are on its project schedule. Your project may receive the go-ahead after all. Or you and your supporters can present it again in the next PB process. Don’t give up.