Elected officials can serve community better through more inclusiveness

Friday, May 6, 2016

With this issue, the Gazette begins its 34th year of serving our readers and advertisers.

In those 34 years, there has been no issue that has caused more problems than local residents feeling that government officials left them out of the decision-making process concerning their communities. We have used the term “decision in a vacuum” many times to describe an all too common situation.

We have seen progress over the years, as today’s officials hold more community meetings and seek more input from local residents than their counterparts of old did, and they actually make changes to plans based on community wishes.

But the process is not always perfect. In this edition of the Gazette alone, residents of the South Loop say they were surprised by the Crescent Heights development being allowed to increase the size of its base, and they worry about a wall effect at the south end of Grant Park because of it.

They also note that they received short notice about a meeting to discuss it, held in an inconvenient location in the middle of the day—all too often a favorite governmental tactic to keep local residents out of the process. Over in Pilsen, people are cautiously optimistic about the new Paseo walking trail. It’s a nice amenity and one that will make good use of old railroad property, but residents are worried about gentrification and that they will not have enough input into developments that may be built next to the trail.

There is less optimism concerning transparency related to the City’s TIF (Tax-Increment Financing) dollars. TIF funds are obtained when tax moneys that should go toward schools, parks, and infrastructure are instead siphoned off, allegedly to fight blight, but too often for politicians’ pet projects. Mayor Rahm Emanuel did keep a campaign promise by creating a web page providing more information on TIF projects, but it does not go far enough. The TIF process needs to include democratic debate, accountability, and public oversight.

More TIF scrutiny will bolster the argument of Tom Tresser and CivicLab that “Chicago is not broke,” and that more transparency could reveal ways Chicago can both save money and create new sources of revenue without taking it from those who can least afford it. We hope City officials in the South Loop, Pilsen, and all of the communities in our coverage area will make transparency a priority, include locals in any planning process, and convene community meetings at convenient times and with ample notice.

One elected official whom we always found to be committed to transparency and who leaves a legacy of caring for and being accessible to everyone was the late State Representative Shirley Jones of the 6th District, who passed away recently.

In the early days of the Gazette in the 1980s, Rep. Jones was one of the first elected officials who was very helpful to us, always ready to provide us with information and to be interviewed concerning breaking news. We were not unique, as Rep. Jones always was committed to inclusiveness and to helping everyone in the community that she could.

Her legacy is a special one, and she will be missed. Concerning the new 4th Ward Alderman, Sophia King, we already are impressed that she cares about inclusiveness, and we are impressed with her candor. King has been a community activist with the Kenwood Park Advisory Board and The It’s Time Organization, so she knows the value of community inclusion.

She specifically noted in an interview with the Gazette that she wants to speak to her constituents in forming her strategic plans and that she wants to hear different voices before making a decision, even though it may take longer. Community activist William Lowry has said, “She listens, and her approach is inclusive and fair.” So we like what we hear so far, and we hope that inclusiveness will be at the top of Alderman King’s agenda.

Being inclusive and serving our readers and advertisers have been at top of our agenda for 34 years, and those will continue to be our key goals. We hope that being inclusive and serving local residents and businesses are at the top of our local elected leaders’ agendas as well. When they are not, don’t worry. We’ll remind them.

Read full Gazette Chicago article here: