Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nothing Needs Fixing In Uptown? Money Sits, Unspent

In an article about the $1.3 million in menu money that each alderman receives to spend on her ward, the Sun-Times reports that Ald. Shiller has not spent $1.15 million of her allotment, and Ald. Smith is still hanging on to a cool million.
  • Shiller said she didn't spend $1.15 million because "menus came out late" and because she is deliberate. "I can spend the money. That's not the issue. The issue is I like to do it in a comprehensive manner," she said.
  • Smith: "This is a very precious pool of money to me. With this menu money, I can make unusually good things happen. But, just because you've got it doesn't mean you need to spend it. There's no rush," she said. "Our neighborhood has a wish-list. It's our job to make it happen. If that means hoarding some of the money, I hang onto it. Every nickel is a prisoner."
Read the entire article here.


  1. But, Smith acknowledged that she "hords" most of her menu money to "seed" projects that "might not happen" otherwise. They include improving retail space in CTA Red Line stations, building dog parks, and enlarging the soon-to-be-built Edgewater Library.

    Smith is actually building another dog park in her ward (which is a positive).

    Though, I don't think she attached support for a new TIF as a requirement to provide 1/2 of the funding for it.


    In Shiller's defense, the CTA stops in her ward are so horrific, there isn't much retail space in them to improve.

    Seems like an interesting juxtaposition, burn through TIF money on projects which don't hold overwhelming public support, then sit on a cool million for projects (even the small ones) which might.

    The "menus came out late" excuse is highly weak, by the way.

    Yeah, she's a peach alright.

  2. I find it interesting that she was able to spend half a million dollars of menu money last year on Wilson Yard in addition to the 50 plus million already in the TIF fund. It would seem there should be tons of projects that have been put off that could be completed. But hey since she does not meet with her ward residents how would she even know what we need or want done in the ward. This money will be quietly spent without any input from us to be sure.

  3. Shiller has a relatively short time to make the new Maryville TIF a reality. Could she be hoarding funds to sweeten that deal????????????????

  4. Do we know if this money rolls over from year to year?

    As an FYI:

    What Types of Projects Are Eligible for Menu Money?

    Eligible are street resurfacing, speed humps, sidewalk repairs, gutter repairs, guardrails, street lights, benches, playlots, security cameras, catwalks and courtesy walks, trash cans, bus shelters, el platform/station improvements

    Not Eligible are after school programs, church/temple facilities, private housing renovations, community arts/sports activities, any services (e.g. healthcare services, elderly care services), public transportation services, hiring of public school teachers or other City of Chicago staff, public housing renovations, tree planting, any personnel expenses, extended hours at parks/libraries

    Apparently Joe Moore did not have any problems with the scheduling OR having the community involved in the decisions.

  5. and contrast Joe Moore's 49th ward site to Helen Shiller's 46th ward site. You wouldn't believe they are in the same city!

  6. Ok, where to begin.

    Since 1996, each Alderman has been direct given control over a sum of General Obligation Bond funds to
    spend on a menu of eligible infrastructure projects in his/her ward. This process (supposedly) gives local neighborhood input and control over roughly half of the 16% of the city budget allocated to Neighborhood Improvement projects.

    Critics say, however, that this menu program allows the Mayor to control the aldermen by initially giving the aldermen a piece of the spending/patronage action, which he can threaten to remove or logjam if they do not fall in line with his wishes.

    A now-defunct government financial watchdog organization, the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group (NCBG), published a report that addressed the "late submission" issue in detail. That April 2004 study, called the "Aldermanic Menu: Neighborhoods Still Hungry for Public Improvements", noted that the city's stated filing date is generally ignored by the aldermen and that aldermen can.and do select from the improvements menu throughout the year. (So, Shiller's excuse simply does not fly, as it is just a lie.)

    In its report, NCBG made this recommendation, which our city administrator (Mayor Daley) and our city legislators (the aldermen) still have not implemented 5 years later:

    "**A NOTE ON ALDERMANIC MENU DEADLINES: The City does not provide a consistent deadline policy for Aldermanic Menu
    submission dates. As can be seen above, the deadlines for 2001, 2002, and 2003 changed each year. A consistent, widely publicized deadline, along with a firm policy outlining procedures and timetables for resident input would help Aldermen and City departments develop a more efficient and productive Aldermanic Men process."

    The study showed that Aldermen can and frequently do submit their menu selections up to 11 months late with no impact on their ability to designate those funds that year. Per the NCBG study, "Of the Aldermen submitting Menus, none submitted by the December 20, 2002 deadline. ...(32) submitted their choices between approximately March 1 and November 1, 2003."

    Note that the goal of the NCBG's recommendation for a consistent submission deadline is for the alderman to routinely schedule community meetings to soliciet community input into selecting menu money infrastructure projects. While Alderman Smith states that she uses community input for the 48th Ward project wish list, this 20-year 46th Ward property owner - who audits for another Government Watchdog agency - has never seen Alderman Shiller even attempt to give constituents any input into the menu selection process or a peek at the her (very private) project wish list.

    As for hoarding the funds to carryover to next year, the NCBG study addresses that too. As of 2003, the 5 top worst offenders include Smith , Shiller, and Tunney. Tunney spent nothing and hoarded his entire 1.2 million neighborhood allotment and also spent the entire next year's allotment on one project, the LGBT Center on Halsted. Smith hoarded all but $60.500. Shiller hoarded all but $274,500. This "hoarding infrastructure funds for special alderman-sponsored development projects" behavior has led South Side aldermen to complain that funds should not be allotted equally to each aldermen. They say, "Why should the North Siders in geographically small and over developed geographic wards get the same amount to spend as devastated West and South side ward, particularly when they can afford to stash money from year to year and not even spend it on ward improvements? That is a very good question. Another good question is about priorities. Why must 46th Ward residents put up with the endless numbers of bursting pipes and undersized and sinking sewers when the alderman has funds to fix them but refuses to do so in lieu of giving it away to development projects?

  7. Fantastic.

    We've got sink holes all over the place, crappy streets and alleys, almost no garbage cans, barely any bus shelters and have been asking for pedestrian lights on Magnolia and other gang-infested streets for years and Helen will just use the money for more important things like funding her campaign and shady TIF deals.

    The larger problem is that the job of alderman attracts such self-serving, lazy scum and they have unchecked power. I dream of a day when the stars align and the city Inspector General is not only of unimpeachable character but also empowered to go after aldermen.

  8. not to be snarky, but has anyone written (not called, 'cause clearly calling the office is an exercise in frustration) Ms Shiller and requested repairs or improvements from Menu funds?

    I'm not confident anything would happen, but at least the pot would not be sh*t talking the kettle. I know I haven't requested anything, so I'm guilty too.

  9. No Colleen, the money is not lost - according to the article it stays in the Alderman's account for future use if not spent.