Transparency and Honest Counsel in the Mayor’s Office

14 02 2012

Mr. Mayor, why won’t you tell this woman what your staff was saying about her dead grandchild?

That’s the devastating question Chicago Tribune reporter David Kidwell leaves unasked at the end of his forceful article on the Mayor’s refusal to release his staff’s internal communications regarding the city’s plan to build a network of red-light cameras across the city. I’m not giving a blockquote to encourage you to read the article. Go ahead, then come back. Or, open it in a new tab and switch back and–you know what, you know what you’re doing.

The full transcript of Kidwell’s contentious interview with the Mayor, released by the Tribune as a companion piece to the article, is a winding, gruff dialog between approaches to transparency, accountability, and even democracy. At times frankly insulting (“I mean this insulting so get it right”) and at times sounding like legal wrangling in a courtroom (“You said there is a disconnect. That’s a conclusion. How do you know there’s a disconnect?”), Kidwell and Emanuel argue about just what transparency means and just how voters are supposed to hold their elected leaders accountable.

Throughout the interview, the Mayor is frustrated that the Tribune seems to have decided what “transparency” means–e.g., full access to internal administration decisionmaking–and passes judgment on his commitment to his transparency pledge based on their interpretation. The Mayor repeatedly chides the Tribune for ignoring the will of the voters on the matter–diminishing the Tribune’s concerns as out of step with the type of transparency people want. This is, at first glance, the “voters don’t care about process, just results” philosophy.

But that’s not all it is, and–I can’t believe I’m writing this–I have to side, with some reservations, with the Mayor.

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Mayor Emanuel’s First Budget Passes Unanimously

16 11 2011

The City Council voted today to pass Mayor Emanuel’s budget unanimously, 50-0. Chicago News Coop reporters Hunter Clauss and Dan Mihalopoulos described Aldermen’s comments as “near worshipful” though not without acknowledging the necessary pain that will come with cuts to front-line workers, library and mental services, and elsewhere.

The budget affects deep cuts, particularly around staffing, to close the $600+ million budget deficit the city faced. The budget came in at $6.3 billion. Aldermen lauded the Mayor for being inclusive in the planning process. While under Mayor Daley unanimous budget votes were often used as evidence that the Council was a mere “rubber stamp” for the Mayor’s prerogative, a unanimity does not necessarily entail that. Aldermen seemed to feel like they got their words in during the preparation process, which is arguably much more important than voting against the final budget. Tracking how the budget has changed from its initial form to today would be more instructive; unfortunately that process is not particularly transparent, or at least self-evident.

AFSCME Council 31, which represents thousands of city workers, released a statement upon passage of the budget bemoaning the deep cuts to basic and needed social services:

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How & Why a Democratic President Privatized Our School System

3 11 2011

Barack Obama is presiding over the beginning of a process that will inexorably result in the privatization of our school system. That doesn’t mean of course that all of our schools will be owned by big corporations; rather it means that within the next five to ten years, our largest school systems will be enmeshed with the private sector, and the regulatory framework that encourages same will be defended vociferously by a new and fierce network of rent seekers. Within a generation, “public schools” will be public only in the sense that they will rely on primarily on government money–similar in that way to the defense industry.

This is bad. Despite the neoliberal fascination with en-marketing everything to appease the Market Unicorn, competition and market forces will not “fix” education (which, coincidentally, is only broken in those places where poverty is high). It will however do these things:

(1) Inherent Decline in Quality. In order to provide the market signals necessary for competition to operate, it will reduce education to quantifiable superficialities (i.e., “high stakes testing”), undermining critical thinking and creativity, particularly in poorer communities.

(a) Commodification of Curricula It will thus give rise to a huge, and by necessity centralized, curricula development industry with a business model that incorporate rent-seeking by necessity.

(b) Institutionalizing Clout and Corruption as Market Advantage.It will encourage lobbying and market-exclusion behavior from the politically well-connected who can use political influence to design standards that benefit existing school-systems.

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