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A sense of good cheer pervaded the last City Council meeting before the holidays, on December 14, where the aldermen finished weeks of discussing Mayor Daley’s 2006 city budget by making a few amendments and signing off on it 48 to 1. Fourth Ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle was the sole no vote; the 33rd Ward’s Richard Mell was absent.
Some aldermen, led by the Ninth Ward’s Anthony Beale, would still like to add another nickel to the budget’s 20-cent hike in cigarette taxes to cover the salaries of an additional staff member for each ward. Beale says his office receives around 100,000 constituent phone calls each year. “The job of alderman has really evolved over the years,” he says. “We now have e-mail and faxes. We haven’t upgraded our staff and offices to keep up with the times.” In the meantime they’ll just have to get by with what they’ve been allotted. Here’s how it breaks down.
The past 16 budgets have included funds to cover the salaries of 50 aldermen, 3 full-time staffers for each, 10 administrators and aides to serve the council as a whole, and up to 25 staffers for the council’s finance committee, which oversees bonds, taxes, legal settlements, workers’ compensation, and council spending. But each of the council’s 19 committees also has a budget for “personnel services,” which committee chairmen use to hire more staff. Tom Allen, alderman of the 38th Ward and chairman of the committee on transportation and the public way, says the chairmen like having a lump sum for hiring because they need “flexibility.”
Staff titles don’t always explain what the people who hold them do. Legislative aides for one alderman or committee may help research or even draft ordinances; other aides are essentially administrative or clerical assistants. (Most of them are paid under the “personnel services” line item.) One of the longest titles is assistant council committee secretary in charge of committee rooms. “They do a variety of different things for the entire City Council,” says Schulter.
The responsibilities of and funding for the council’s legislative committees, some of which have been consolidated, are also wide-ranging.
The council budget also includes several pots of money for things such as “legal, technical, medical and professional services, appraisals, consultants, printers, court reporters, and other incidental contractual services” (a total of $3,206,042). As president pro tem, Solis can authorize dipping into one of them; the 50th Ward’s Bernard Stone, who holds the largely symbolic post of vice mayor, can authorize dipping into another and Burke, as finance committee chair, into two others.
There’s also a pot of money to cover honorary ceremonies held at the beginning of council meetings.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Laura Park.