Chicagoans say the biggest thing missing from public budget meetings is the mayor

Chicagoans say the biggest thing missing from public budget meetings is the mayor
A 45th ward resident put this chair and sign out at last night's community budget hearing, noting the mayor's absence and his cancellation of the city's traditional community budget hearings. Photo credit: Megan Cottrell

Anna Klocek was glad to see so many people gathered at a community meeting on the city's budget,  but she felt one person was missing.

Klocek went over to the corner of the room, pulled out an empty chair, threw a grey satiny blanket over it and sat a poster in the empty seat.

It pictured Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the "Rahmfather" in a movie-poster parody titled "Rahm Emanuel 'The Transparent.'"

The room broke out into laughter and then applause.

Many of the other participants at the hearing echoed Klocek's concern and called for more transparency from the Emanuel administration in the budget process.

"He is shutting out the public from the budget process," said Stanley Polk, a janitor at O'Hare airport, who attended at the Monday evening meeting. "That is not right."

The meeting was hosted by the members of the City Council who call themselves the "progressive caucus." The event was the first of three planned after the group learned the mayor would not be holding any public meetings on the city's budget this year.

"Traditionally, the mayor would host three public hearings with his cabinet to give Chicagoans the opportunity to testify and weigh in on the city's priorities. But this year, Mayor Emanuel is forgoing those public hearings," said progressive caucus member  and 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack. "The Chicago City Council progressive caucus is going forward with the community hearings anyway, because we believe it is critical that we include the voices of Chicago residents in this process."

Six aldermen attended the panel, including 2nd ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, who said Chicagoans should have the opportunity to be heard when it comes to spending their tax dollars.

"This administration has shut out the public and the taxpayers," said Fioretti.

The mayor's press office did not respond to questions on why Emanuel will not be holding public hearings on the 2013 budget. He had public discussions last year, but this year he’s having smaller roundtable discussions with some residents.

The hearings have been a tradition in the city since Mayor Harold Washington, says Amisha Patel, director of the Grassroots Collaborative, one of the organizers of the event.

"Private conversations are no way to make a public budget," said Patel. "It's too bad Mayor Emanuel can't be bothered with the messiness of democracy."

Many citizens at the hearing were concerned that the city's money is benefiting private interests rather than the public good.

"Every budget, we come and there's a shortfall," said Frank Coconate, who spoke at the event. "Who do they take it out on? The workers."

Jorge Martinez, another janitor at O'Hare airport, said that while the mayor has pledged not to raise taxes, he's increasing fines and fees that fall on working families, while at the same time, eliminating the corporate head tax.

"Why don't the businesses also pay their fair share of fines and taxes instead of getting breaks of millions of dollars?" asked Martinez, through a translator.

Anne Irving, a resident of Jefferson Park, is worried about what will happen to her neighbors, many of whom are city workers, if privatization continues.

"The more we privatize services, the more my neighbors are going to be out of work," said Irving.

The progressive caucus will hold two more budget meetings for the public on the West and South sides of the city. The West Side community budget hearing will be at Wells High School, 936 N. Ashland Ave. on Oct. 24 at 6 p.m.. The South Side meeting will take place on Oct. 30 at 6 p.m. at South Shore International High School, 1955 E. 75th St.

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