Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) fittingly celebrated his first anniversary in office at a meeting of the Ward Council, one of his earliest initiatives to make good on a campaign promise.
The council, which is composed of delegates from the ward’s various block clubs (some of them still desperately searching for catchy names), held its first gathering last October and some six months later is still striving to define its purpose, not surprising considering that, as the first of its kind in Chicago, there’s no road map to follow.
Originally conceived as an advisory body, the council’s role seems to have evolved into a communications channel and means to organize neighbors around certain issues or projects, like LSC elections or Earth Day cleanup.
“We’ve had a lot of groups from,” Pawar said of the now numerous block clubs. “Now we’ve got to take it to the next level.”
This past week’s meeting, held at St. Benedict’s, 2215 W. Irving Park Rd., was aimed at doing just that, featuring a break-out session in which small groups of delegates discussed what’s worked, what hasn’t and what role the council should play in ward governance.
On the “what’s worked” side of the ledger, members uniformly appreciated the opportunity for face-time with the alderman, updates on city-wide legislation and the chance to meet like-minded neighbors. On the “what hasn’t,” delegates noted that meetings were often heavy on top-down presentation.
Going forward, recommendations were made to organize the council around interests (environment, education, safety, etc.) rather than street boundaries, while others suggested tasking the council with specific functions in the way that Local School Councils have a set of explicit responsibilities.
Aside from agreeing to continue to meet every six to eight weeks, no firm commitments were made toward next steps for the council.
Pawar opened the meeting by bringing delegates up to speed on recent actions taken by City Council:
But the majority of his comments focused on his “yes” vote for the mayor’s proposed Infrastructure Trust. “People say ‘rubber stamp’ — I think there was a lot of conversation,” said Pawar. “There seems to be this frame of mind that if you’re voting against the mayor, you’re voting for reform, and if you vote with the mayor, you’re complicit in some scheme. I voted for it because I think it’s the right thing to do.”
The alderman did concede that the mayor’s office poorly handled its presentation of the Trust to the public. “If it were my plan, I’d be out talking to people, holding town halls,” said Pawar. “From an education and messaging perspective, the mayor’s office could have done better. Had they rolled this out differently, it would have been a very easy vote.”
The Trust, he explained, provides the city with another financing option for the massive public works projects that other cities and countries – ie, Chicago’s competitors – have been investing in for years. “We’ve done very little over the last 25 years to prepare for the future,” he said. “We can barely keep up with the nuts and bolts.”
While an Infrastructure Trust board has yet to be put in place, the first project will likely be an effort to retrofit all of the city’s public buildings. “I think it will put a lot of our trade folks back to work,” said Pawar.