Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Does City Council need a jolt from the public to get them to act properly?

Council chambers weren't quite this empty, but it wasn't far off either. Photograph provided by City of Chicago.
On the one hand, I can’t say that the City Council’s behavior earlier this week surprises me, or that their actions caused any serious harm.

But the indifference expressed by the aldermen is dismaying. Eleven ought to be Luis Aparicio’s retired uniform number, NOT the number of council members who thought it worth their time to show up for a City Council meeting.

I’M REFERRING TO the special meeting of the council that was supposed to take place Monday, but didn’t because most aldermen didn’t bother to show up. Of the 50 aldermen, at least 26 need to be on hand for any official action to take place.

They didn’t even come close to a quorum. So nothing happened.

What died politically as a result were a series of referenda that officials, including city Clerk/mayoral hopeful Miguel del Valle, had wanted placed on the Feb. 22 municipal election ballot.

Monday was a deadline for the council to take action to place questions on the ballot allowing voters to have a say whether more police officers should be hired, city officials should try to renegotiate their horrid parking meter lease, or financial transactions at the LaSalle Street exchanges should be taxed.

SO NOW, UNLESS voters show the initiative to undertake petition drives to place the issues on the ballot, these questions won’t be on the ballot.

Now I realize that even if these issues had made it to the ballot, they were merely advisory questions. There was no binding legal authority for city government officials to act in accordance with the results of the referenda.

They were just a chance for people to express their opinion. And we all realize how little the city officials themselves care about public opinion – they view it as a lot of meaningless noise that gets in the way of city business being conducted.

I even realize that on the issue of the parking meter lease, it doesn’t matter how much people complain, or if city officials were willing to get themselves involved in that fiasco. Our city government signed a valid contract and is now stuck with a bad deal.

I SUPPOSE THE company that is now getting all that money we pump into the parking meters every time we park on a city street (personally, I try to avoid operating an automobile within the city limits) could, out of the generosity of their hearts, decide to renegotiate.

Then again, we could also have a White Sox/Cubs World Series in 2011. Fat chance!

So I suppose the aldermen who didn’t bother to show up would claim they were merely ignoring a meeting whose activity had no legitimacy – although Forty-Ninth Ward Alderman Joe Moore told the Chicago Sun-Times he thinks soon-to-be-former Mayor Richard M. Daley personally told the aldermen not to bother to show up.

After all, why even discuss these embarrassing issues (a 75-year parking meter lease where the city has already spent its share of the money only two years into the agreement) when the referendums can’t do much?

NOW I WILL be the first to admit that I detest political blather. Government officials gathering together to grandstand and make pronouncements about issues when they can’t truly act upon them is a nauseating concept.

Yet I still have enough respect for a City Council as an institution (I think some of its members are unworthy of serving in that legislative body) that I take offense to the idea of 39 out of 50 aldermen deciding they can’t be bothered to show up for a meeting.

It’s not like the council has daily sessions (it’s not Congress or the Illinois General Assembly). It would have been one morning out of the working lives of the aldermen – most of whom have business or legal interests that are enhanced by the fact that they are also elected officials.
MEEKS: Taking city to the people?

It actually makes me wonder if Rev./state Sen./mayoral hopeful James Meeks is on to something with his latest campaign pronouncement. He plans to hit all 50 wards during the next 50 days, and earlier this week said he wants to have city officials spent more time in the neighborhoods – rather than huddle amongst themselves all the time at City Hall.

“WHY SHOULD EVERYONE be forced to come to City Hall to conduct their city business,” Meeks said, in explaining his proposal to have city department heads spend one day per week in the neighborhoods.

Now I realize the individual aldermen do spend some significant time in their own wards, although there are times I wonder if their local knowledge is too limited to which of their neighbors vote regularly and which do not?

Perhaps a little less time spent studying the vote tallies would mean more attention paid to the actual concerns of the residents. Heck, that might even get those people who can’t be bothered to vote to actually show up and cast a ballot, once in a while.

It would definitely make the aldermen realize how silly they looked this week when only 11 of them bothered to be present.


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