PI Original Angela Caputo Thursday April 23rd, 2009, 9:46am

Wednesday At City Hall

Yesterday, the Chicago City Council adopted two pieces of legislation we've been following closely in recent months -- the TIF sunshine ordinance and an Olympics community benefits agreement. Both passed unanimously no less. Below is a summary of the two measures, as well ...

Yesterday, the Chicago City Council adopted two pieces of legislation we've been following closely in recent months -- the TIF sunshine ordinance and an Olympics community benefits agreement. Both passed unanimously no less. Below is a summary of the two measures, as well as a preview of another potential fight in City Hall.

TIF Transparency
As we noted yesterday, Alds. Manny Flores (1st Ward) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) finally pushed through the first major reform aimed at applying some level of accountability at Daley's shadowy tax increment financing system. Back in 2007, then-Cook Co. Commissioner Mike Quigley and his staff spelled out the lack of publicly available TIF information in their report, "A Tale Of Two Cities" (PDF):

[T]he process one must go through just to get a minimally clear picture of TIF in Chicago requires time and fortitude average citizens simply don’t have. Nor should they have to. For government to demand such legwork for access to public information is tantamount to shifting the burden of ensuring open, transparent governance onto voters and taxpayers – and quite needlessly, given the relative ease with this information, already in electronic form, could be shared instantaneously via the web. [...]

For the city to create an information-rich online TIF resource would represent a monumental overturning of the status quo – but only because the present offerings are so meager. The number of TIFs is set to pass 160 this coming year, a sure sign that TIFs truly are “the only game in town.” It is long past time for the city to take the necessary measures for bringing the public information component of this massive program into the 21st century.

The City Council had managed to avoid this basic issue for years, until Flores and Waguespack brought it front-and-center with their TIF sunshine ordinance. In the beginning, the mainstream reporting on their effort was spotty at best.  But by the time the measure reached its second committee hearing this week, the Sun-Times and Tribune editorial pages were vocally supporting the idea.  The public was paying attention too, as Flores hints in a release:

The ordinance was passed thanks to the editorial support it received, and the support registered by everyday Chicago citizens. Alderman Waguespack and I are grateful for the help, and heartened that the city rallied behind this cause. The testimony, consent, and support of private citizens and organizations helped move our proposal through committee and into law.

With one victory in hand, Flores tells us he's ready to move on to the next. After the TIF information is online, he wants to see that the billions brought in through Daley's "great Chicago sell off" (the leasing of the parking meters, garages, and Skyway) are reflected in the budget too. "This is just the beginning," he says.  As Mick Dumke reports, some other members of the council seem to be catching the transparency bug:

And just maybe the council will follow up, as promised, with even more efforts to let the public see how its money is being spent. "I do think the taxpayers of Chicago deserve an honest accounting of every tax dollar," said 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly. "Certainly the city of Chicago can offer more transparency and sunshine."

Yes, this could be argued.

Community Benefits Agreement
Yesterday, the City Council also approved a memorandum of understanding establishing its support for a "community benefits agreement" (CBA) between the Chicago Olympic bid committee and the mayoral-appointed community outreach committee.  The document sets aside affordable housing, minority contracts, and jobs for those Chicagoans currently living in areas of potential Olympic development.

On the council floor, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward) lauded the grassroot negotiations that led to the measure passing. "There were so many meetings around this I had to send my staff," he said gleefully. "We stood our ground. It was such a proud moment," he said of striking the final deal. (Nevermind that Burnett rattled off some ambitious benefits that aren't even part of the agreement.)

Of course the ones who deserve the credit are members of the Coalition for an Equitable Olympics (CEO 2016), the coalition of labor and community groups that began lobbying Alds. Toni Preckwinkle (4th Ward), Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) and Freddrenna Lyle (6th Ward), to create a the legally-binding agreement last summer. We've been following the rocky campaign all along, and Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization's (KOCO) Jay Travis told us yesterday afternoon, "We've only won the first round of a 12 round fight."

That seems about right, considering that there's no official entity in place to monitor the non-binding agreement. Dowell argues that it's going to take ongoing pressure by community groups to see it through. Meanwhile, former State Senate President Emil Jones has some harsh words for the lack of oversight, telling the Chicago Defender that the deal is "a sham."

Travis is treading a little lighter, characterizing it as "a first step." "Now it's up to elected officials to figure out how to get an agreement that's binding," she told us.

Another Big Box Fight On The Horizon?
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st Ward) told us yesterday that he's bracing for "a floor fight" on his proposal to open a second Wal-Mart in Chicago. He has introduced an amended redevelopment agreement that's moved on to the Rules Committee. Fran Spielman provides some background:

Last year, then-Planning and Development Commissioner Arnold Randall rejected a request for administrative approval to build a 150,000 square-foot Wal-Mart supercenter on the site of the old Ryerson Steel plant at 83rd and Stewart. The developer responded by putting the property up for sale.

Brookins' proposal would strip the commissioner of the power to veto stores over 100,000 square feet.

"I'm doing it because I can't get any other movement any way else," he said.

But some of his fellow aldermen don't seem to jazzed about reigniting this debate:

"The timing is pretty bad. We're trying to keep some peace with the unions. We've got an October deadline with the [International] Olympic Committee. I don't think we want to show any problems here with the city and our workforce," said Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th).

We'll be following this one closely.

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