Sunday, January 13, 2008

Big spender, little spender: An investigation into alderman finances

From the Medill News Services of May 2006. Discusses aldermanic service finances at that point in time. Here's a quote...
Last year, Chicago taxpayers gave the city's 50 aldermen about $1.65 million to run their ward offices. That comes out to slightly more than $33,000 per alderman.

Some, like Hairston, exhaust their funds as they scramble to pay rent and utilities and answer the daily calls of more than 100 constituents. Others squander their tax-funded allowances on Cadillac leases and exorbitant cell phone bills. A third group of aldermen seems to get by without spending much at all.

Two competing proposals under discussion in the City Council would alleviate the strain on ward offices and staff. One would increase the total aldermanic allowances to nearly $2.2 million, or another $10,000 per aldermen. The other would add an additional employee to each alderman's staff but not increase the allowance.

Currently, each alderman can hire three full-time employees, who are paid out of the city's general fund. Every alderman also receives an additional $26,520 of taxpayer money to hire contractual services -- interns, consultants, investigators and other specialists.

"We're not trying to be greedy," said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who proposed the allowance increase. "We're just trying to run our offices as they should."

Eighteen years ago, the city changed the spending rules after revelations that aldermen were using tax dollars to buy cars, purchase baseball tickets and pay themselves rent. While those abuses have largely been eliminated, it seems that some aldermen could still use a little financial counseling. A Medill News Service investigation of last year's expense records shows:

* One alderman spent nearly $14,000 of her $33,280 allowance on a car lease.

* Five aldermen paid more than $3,000 each in yearly cell phone bills, including one alderman who paid $6,000 in just nine months.

* Two aldermen bought more than $10,000 a year in office supplies.

* Eleven aldermen exhausted their expense funds before the end of the year, and seven of those exceeded the limit.

* Twenty-one aldermen spent less than their allotment -- and two came in under $15,000.

So why do some aldermen run short while others spend so little? And if aldermen deserve more money, shouldn't they prove they can spend it wisely?
BTW, this article discusses constituent service calls. The Sixth Ward logged 24,443 at the time. I wonder where that number is now!

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