How to streamline government and save money Chicago Style.
Think 19 is too many? How about 28 and an additional price tag of $2.5 million (per year!). Great op for new committee chairs to get bribes throw weight around. Love it.
City Council shakes off rubber-stamp reputation, declares independence
A reorganization plan approved Thursday will increase the number of City Council committees from 19 to 28 and reduce maximum size of most committees to 11 members, down from 20. Critics note that will allow some legislation to pass out of committee with just a handful of votes.
By Fran Spielman, Suntimes
Mar 30, 2023, 11:07am MDT
Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson have both said they want an empowered, independent and energized City Council to be their partner in solving Chicago’s enormous challenges.
That’s what they’ll get, at a cost of millions, thanks to a committee expansion driven by the need to guarantee enough votes to ensure passage.
Amid charges of vote “buying” and “corruption,” the lame-duck Council on Thursday voted 34-to-10 and 33-to-11 to ratify a plan hatched by three of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s closest allies. The plan will increase the number of City Council committees from 19 to 28 and change the rules to, among other things, limit direct introductions and reduce committee membership.
The plan does not identify where the $2.5 million-plus needed annually to bankroll the nine new committees will come from.
The roster of committee chairs conspicuously excludes Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), the 24-year-veteran who is the Council’s second-most senior member.
Beale was a voice in the wilderness over the last four years, pleading with his colleagues to end what he called the “dictatorship” under Lightfoot. He claims to have been left out because he made only one request: to chair the Finance Committee, a post Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) retains in the new line-up.
Also absent from the new leadership team were two other veteran alderpersons who have joined Beale in endorsing Vallas: Anthony Hopkins (2nd) and Ray Lopez (15th).
Beale, Hopkins and Lopez let their colleagues have it.
“I am embarrassed to be a Chicagoan today,” Beale said.
“I’ve never seen a process to buy votes such as this. I’ve never seen a process to create 28 committees to buy votes such as today,” he added. “You all should be embarrassed to call yourselves elected officials to try to ram this through,” when they allowed Lightfoot to run roughshod over the Council for four years.
“This is not independence. This is a corrupt process run by the same corrupt people who ran the remap process. You should be ashamed of yourselves. … I don’t know how y’all sleep at night.”
Beale said he didn’t care about being a chairman, but he questioned the decision to give someone who’s been here two months and “doesn’t even know where the bathroom is” a committee to chair just “to buy votes.”
Only one recent appointee, Ald. Monique Scott, was made a committee chair. Scott was confirmed last year to fill the seat vacated by her brother, Michael Scott.
Hopkins asked why the council is acting five days before the election to deny incoming Council members and the newly-elected mayor the input they deserve.
“This is unprecedented and unfair. … It has never happened in the city’s history…Bathhouse John and Hinky-Dink Kenna didn’t come up with this,” Hopkins said referring to two of Chicago’s most notoriously corrupt alderpersons.
Lopez accused his colleagues of “trying to subvert the next mayor, put that person behind the eight-ball and set them up for failure” because neither Johnson nor Vallas has weighed in on the leadership team.
“You want an independent City Council? Then start with the next one that is duly elected,” Lopez said.
Ald. David Moore (17th) said he could have had a committee to chair, but refused to go along with a closed-door process that “trampled over democracy.”
“You can’t buy me. I ain’t got no price. I ain’t no prostitute,” Moore said.
“You don’t go behind closed doors and increase it to 28 committee. We’re in a financial bind as it is. Come on, y’all. Open it up. The people who put this stuff together cannot because it was about self-interest.”
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) countered that the process that produced a line-up that anointed him Housing Committee chair was “fair and collaborative.”
Ald, Marty Quinn (13th), chief political operative for indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), will chair the newly-created Committee on Executive Appointments.
Quinn said he was “proud to be part of this historic day.”
“It’s been a long time in the making. But we came together and seized it. We came up with a fair and equitable plan for the most diverse leadership in Chicago history. A lot of people didn’t think we could pull this off. I’m happy we proved them wrong,” Quinn said.
Waguespack, who spearheaded the reorganization, argued the nine new committees would allow the Council to get “new input from Latinas” and enable alderpersons to “focus on areas neglected that haven’t gotten he attention they deserve.”
To those who say 28 committees is too many, Waguespack noted New York City has 51 members and 38 committees.
“We’re asserting independence that’s been asked for by many for years. … We’re increasing independence and minimizing mayoral influence,” Waguespack said.
The Better Government Association and the League of Women Voters have long urged the City Council to shed its rubber stamp reputation and take back the power they have ceded to the mayor to dictate the committees lineup and chairs.
But neither watchdog group liked how Lightfoot’s allies went about it — particularly the proposal to ram the changes through in the curent Council and increase the number of committees from 19 to 28 to divvy up the spoils, appease a majority and ensure at least 26 votes, so it would pass.
Prior to the final vote, both groups reiterated that Chicago taxpayers already spend more than $5 million a year on City Council staffing, nearly all of it on committees, some of which have “rarely met during the past four years.”
Staffing hiring and responsibilities are left to the discretion of committee chairs, creating “resource disparities” between members that fuel an “ongoing perception of leadership as a `perk’ rather than an administrative responsibility.”
“Adding more committees without reforming Council’s staffing structure is a recipe for corruption and waste,” the groups have said.
Both groups also questioned the proposal to reduce the “maximum size” of most committees from 20 alderpersons to 11.
With a “minimum quorum,” that would allow legislation to be passed out of committee with only a handful of votes.