13 aldermen leave $4.7M unspent in ’12, forcing mayor to bend rule on carryover
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org February 27, 2013 12:25AM
Updated: March 28, 2013 6:40AM
Thirteen Chicago aldermen together left $4.7 million of their “menu” money on the table in 2012 — including one alderman who failed to spend 75 percent of his neighborhood improvement allowance — forcing Mayor Rahm Emanuel to bend his own new rule prohibiting carryover.
Last year, Emanuel ordered dramatic changes to the treasured $66 million-a-year program that gives each of Chicago’s 50 aldermen $1.32 million to spend on infrastructure repairs and security improvements of his or her choosing.
The mayor declared that aldermen would be required to program 80 percent of their menu money by June 30 of each year and spend the remaining 20 percent before Dec. 31 of each calendar year or forfeit unspent funds to the city treasury.
Until then, they were free to make requests throughout the year, and undesignated funds were carried over from year to year.
The mayor also vowed to give aldermen a “recommended list” of projects the city considers “most urgent” in their wards along with a “comprehensive map of all planned projects” by government agencies and utilities.
Despite the “no-rollover” edict, records show that 13 aldermen each left more than $100,000 of their menu money on the table for a collective unspent total of $4.7 million.
They were led by Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who failed to spend $999,400 of his $1.32 million infrastructure allowance.
Other aldermen with large year-end balances included: Jason Ervin (28th) $647,036; John Arena (45th) $616,365; James Cappleman (46th) $588,072; Bob Fioretti (2nd) $343,942; Michele Smith (43rd) $251,163; Ray Suarez (31st) $251,151; Tim Cullerton (38th) $242,864; Debra Silverstein (50th) $230,161 and George Cardenas (12th) $209,639.
Moore said he was unable to spend 75 percent of his annual allowance because Peoples Gas is laying new gas mains throughout Rogers Park and tearing up local streets to do it.
“The vast majority of that [unspent] money is designated for street resurfacing that has been put on hold. We’ve worked this all out with the mayor’s office and the budget office. It’s 49th Ward money. We’re gonna keep it and use it to resurface a bunch of streets once People’s Gas is done,” he said.
Moore said carving out an exception to Emanuel’s “no carryover” edict is the “smart thing” to do for Chicago taxpayers.
“What would be worse is blind adherence to the rule. The worst thing you could do is resurface streets only to have them torn up in a matter of months by gas utilities,” he said.
“This is a way to ensure that when streets get resurfaced, they stay resurfaced. We’re also saving taxpayers money, because Peoples Gas will pay to resurface portions of the streets they tear up. We’ll get more bang for our resurfacing bucks.”
Mayoral spokesperson Kathleen Strand acknowledged that Emanuel is waiving his no-carryover rule for Moore and other aldermen with leftover funds on a “case-by-case” basis.
“We’re still transitioning into the new policy and needed to have flexibility during this transitional year, so we’re not wasting money,” Strand said.
“The 2012 menu funds were supposed to be fully programmed by the end of 2012. However, due to the moratorium on street work in certain wards, not all the aldermen were able to spend their 2012 allotment. Some wards — such as Joe Moore’s — already have an enormous amount of utility work under way. Thanks to the new coordinated process for city projects, we asked the aldermen not to spend money in areas we knew that either the city or the utilities would already be going into in the near future, as we wanted to prevent tearing up new street work.”
Ervin attributed his $647,036 year-end balance to his predecessor’s long-stalled plan to build a new $2 million fieldhouse at Moore Park.
Former Ald. Ed Smith (28th) committed $1 million of his menu money to the project in 2008, only to have the Chicago Park District fail to come up with the $1 million in matching funds. Now, the Park District has found the money and the project has the green light.
“This was something given back to us somewhat out of our control. We were spending down the money until we were informed by the Park District of their commitment,” Ervin said.
“It’s not like we’re rolling that money over. It was already committed to the Park District by the previous aldermen and they didn’t have the money to match it, so the money was released. I stopped using 2012 money because I knew we had to pay $1 million to the Park District for the field house in Moore Park.”
Cappleman blamed the Chicago Department of Transportation for his $588,072 balance.
“We had all the money spent, but it’s out for bid, and the bid did not come back in yet. The problem is CDOT has been very, very slow in giving us bids for our projects. The money is spent. We’re just waiting for CDOT to give us the bids,” he said.
The “no-rollover” edict was enough to prod eight aldermen into spending every last penny of their annual allotment. Four others left $1 on the table. Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) spent all but $96.
Expenditures go beyond street and alley resurfacing, curb, gutter and sidewalk repairs.
Burke spent $85,100 on 46 speed humps. Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) spent $101,750 on street speed humps, $291,850 on street lights and $370,000 on traffic signals. Security was foremost for Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), who spent $1.2 million on street lights and $42,500 on police POD cameras.
When Emanuel proposed the new rules, aldermen feared the changes might be the first step toward eliminating a program that was on the chopping block during budget negotiations before they demanded that it be saved.
Others wondered how the mayor could prohibit menu money carryover from year-to-year when City Hall has been notoriously slow to complete the work.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported in 2010 that 13 aldermen had left at least $500,000 of their $1.32 million-a-year allotment on the table and that four closed the books on 2009 with more than $1 million unspent. Nine others failed to use between $250,000 and $500,000, records showed.
During the 2007 aldermanic campaign she subsequently lost, then- Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd) angrily defended her decision to use more than $200,000 of her menu money for street, alley and sidewalk improvements on four bronze statutes of musicians heralding the Chicago Blues District.