Today, a Chicago City Council committee finally held a hearing on the ordinance proposed by Alds. Manny Flores (1st Ward) and Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) aimed at shedding light on Mayor Daley’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) “piggy bank ". And in a strange turn of events, ...
Today, a Chicago City Council committee finally held a hearing on the ordinance proposed by Alds. Manny Flores (1st Ward) and Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) aimed at shedding light on Mayor Daley’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) “piggy bank ". And in a strange turn of events, Planning Department deputy commissioner Bill Eager unintentionally made the case for such transparency.
He appeared before the committee to demonstrate the accessibility of TIF information. But his presentation backfired when he publicly fumbled through his own department’s site, seeking details that were either nonexistent or outdated.
“Let’s go to Goose Island quickly,” Eager said at one point, while looking for information on the notorious Republic Windows TIF -- information that only appeared online after Flores and Waguespack complained about the questionable deal. “Or as quickly as this will allow." When he finally found the desired information, it turned out to be from 2006.
“You said this is current … This is 2009,” balked Finance Committee Chair Ed Burke, who co-led the hearing with Economic, Capital, and Technology Development Chair Ald. Marge Laurino (39th Ward). She tried to throw Eager a lifeline, asking him to move on to a mapping page where taxpayers could find out whether they live in a TIF. “We took that down,” Eager said after stumbling around some more. “We’ll put that back up.”
The audience, including members of the committee itself, couldn’t help but chuckle when he went on to argue that the city is doing a decent job of keeping citizens informed.
Unfortunately, despite signing onto Flores and Waguespack’s ordinance, Laurino made clear she doesn’t plan to move forward quickly, claiming that the plan would “entail cost and time and [is] something we don’t want to rush into.”
Her contention that publicizing the information would be too burdensome was undercut by EveryBlock co-founder Dan O’Neil’s testimony. He cited dozens of similar projects executed by Everyblock using raw government data provided by the city, including information on building permits and health department inspections. O’Neil personally offered to put the TIF data online in a searchable format within a month’s time -- free of charge -- if they’d just turn over the requisite employment reports, contracts, payment schedules, and other data. “This is less about technology than intent,” he said of the city’s lock-tight grip on TIF details.
Notwithstanding O’Neil’s plea, Laurino deferred a vote on the measure. Her parting words: “We’ve gathered quite a bit of information here today, and I think we have a lot of loose ends to tie up with our law department, and I think we’ve heard some recommendations from other aldermen, so we’re going to hold this.” As Mick Dumke reported, she “offered no timetable for when it would be considered again.” Flores and Waguespack told him they hope to pass “some form of the ordinance” by next month.
It should be noted that not a single alderman, expert, or member of the public testified against the common sense plan. But as Laurino’s final remarks suggested, there are plenty of officials who are making their “recommendations” known behind the scenes, even as they pay lip service to the idea in public. If their intent is to quietly bury this ordinance, Chicago residents -- as well as Flores and Waguespack -- shouldn’t let them get away with it.
Image courtesy of the Windy Citizen TIF Map.