They came to the city’s West Side in Congressional District 7 with a common cause: to create a better Chicago. In a town hall meeting held at Westinghouse College Prep on Friday, Mayor Daley, Supt. Jody Weis, and members of City Council met with concerned citizens that included potential voters to talk about the 2011 city budget.
Many people showed up at 7pm for this get together of sorts that is designed to give citizens input to help create the nation’s third largest city’s budget. Just like its’ size, this town has large debt, $654.7 million. Important financial issues were on the minds of those who came to have their say.
For the most part, I thought the forum was conducted well as those who came to speak to the mayor approached the mic sometimes one at a time, some showed up in force as small groups hoping to get their points across.
There were many who began their three minutes of time with a heart-felt thanks to the mayor for his outstanding service to the people of our great city. Many acknowledged Daley’s accomplishments while in office, wishing him well in his future endeavors.
I must note that the Midwestern flavor of a town hall meeting is very refreshing. In spite of admonishing the mayor, most speakers were extremely polite and calm, in their criticisms, enthusiasm, and zeal when expressing their opinions on problems in the metropolis.
And, problems we have indeed, as I am still learning things and getting to know my new city. I highly recommend attending a town hall gathering. You hear real situations from real people who live near or around your community. Especially during an election year. It affords potential voters to get a close up view on critical issues; it also provides you an opportunity to get the mayor’s reactions. All pertinent info you will need to know when going to the polls and budgeting your money.
Pastors, activists, students, block presidents, teachers, homeless, ex-gang members, members of NPS, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, people from many walks of life were present. Some of the problems were so complex, three minutes could not give the matter justice. I found Daley understanding, allowing some to complete their presentation omitting the time restraint.
In fact, I saw a tolerant leader as he listened to one complaint after another.
On the top of the list of city woes: public safety. This was the most talked about issue of the evening. Citizens expressed the need for more police officers, a lack of response from police or 911 when they call, multiple calls to 911 before there is a response when they do get one, lack of beat officers in neighborhoods, and single officers patrolling in cars that cannot effectively address issues because it is dangerous for them to respond alone, so they just drive by.
Also discussed was gang violence, crime rates, killings, theft, as well as drug deals going down on neighborhood streets surrounded by women, children, and senior citizens. I was appalled when a senior full of despair, described how gang members terrorize and threaten seniors, as well as others for reporting known drug dealers to the authorities in their efforts to try to clean the communities.
Taxes, TIF, World Sports Fund, in addition to other city monies were hot topics. Citizens requested funds for much needed projects; others looked for extensions of programs already in place to continue to be funded by the city budget, or TIF money, which is a windfall fund in 159 designated TIF districts. (There is $700 billion in unspent TIF money on the books. Ald. Brendan Reilly wants the mayor to declare a surplus to release those funds and put them to use).
Some were calling for more transparency in TIF fund reporting, suggesting perhaps using an outside auditing agency. Others did not know how much was in their district’s fund, asking for regular, online reports. More importantly, and I thought this was a good one, use TIF money to create jobs. And, you know job creation was one of the major themes of the hour. (Chicago has a 10 percent unemployment rate).
Other concerns highlighted were: vacant city lots full of garbage, grass not mowed; a site for prostitution and drug dealing; privatization of the airport, the festivals, the water system, plus other city assets; opening parks, creating after school centers, developing job skills, and social development for the youth.
Sadly, a few complained about a reduction of staff, including psychiatrists, meds, and services at the Public Mental Health Clinics.
Individuals from the 11th District seemed particularly disturbed at the conditions in their location, as one after another stepped up to the mic sharing their grievance with Mayor Daley.
Mayor Daley and Supt. Jody Weis, as well as City Council members have quite a lot on their plates. Daley advised the people he will be their mayor until the last day when the newly elected leader takes the helm.
Daley will present the City Budget in October; it must pass by New Years Eve.
For a look at the City Budget, go here.