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City Council’s Independent Budget Office up and running — finally

After a four-month delay, the $485,000-a-year Independent Budget Office created to provide aldermen with expert advice on mayoral spending, programs and privatization is finally up and running.

The City Council’s Rules Committee got the ball rolling Wednesday as former Ald. Helen Shiller (46th) picked up another key endorsement to fill the $130,000-a-year job of City Council financial analyst.

Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th), one of four aldermen who will help choose the new chief, joined Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin in endorsing Shiller.

“I’ve always been very proud of the work that Helen did in the City Council and certainly would be inclined to vote in favor of a former colleague,” Burke said, before asking who the other candidates are.

Burke offered his endorsement after the Rules Committee got the ball rolling on the new office by approving the appointment of five people who will oversee the office for two years and fill the job Shiller has been angling for.

Representing the council will be Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd), Ray Suarez (31st) and Ameya Pawar (47th). They will join Burke and Austin who are automatic members.

The five aldermen will be joined by former CTA Board Chair Carole Brown and Joe Pijanowski, directing business representative of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Last month, Pawar complained about the four-month delay for an office that could play a pivotal role in solving the city’s pension crisis and searching for revenues other than the property tax to shore up police and fire pension funds.

On Wednesday, all was forgiven.

“This is a big step today. … I’m just happy we have a committee together,” he said.

As for Shiller, Pawar would only say she has some stiff competition.

“We’re getting ahead of ourselves. We have to put a job description together and post it. I can just tell you that, based on the resumes people have just sent, kind of in anticipation of a job posting, there are some really, really impressive candidates,” he said.

Elected to the City Council in 1987 with the backing of then-Mayor Harold Washington, whom she described as “like a father to me,” Shiller represented the North Side’s 46th Ward for 24 years.

For nearly half that time, Shiller was Daley’s most persistent critic.

She supported candidates against Daley and was the only dissenting vote against his budgets.

During budget hearings, she would pepper department heads with oral questions and submit a hundred more in writing.

Ultimately, Shiller was co-opted by Daley, became a committee chairman, supported his budgets and programs and ended up endorsing Daley for re-election in 2003.

Daley returned the favor by supporting the Shiller-backed Wilson Yard project, among others. He also stopped putting up candidates to run against her.

At the time, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown wrote that “the last squeaky wheel in the City Council had been greased. . . . The last independent voice had joined the chorus.”

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