Sunday, December 21, 2014

IVI-IPO questionnaire for Chicago alderman, Part 1: City Council Reform & Ethics

Some people watch Netflix on Saturday night. I thought I'd take a stab at the IVI-IPO questionnaire for candidates for Chicago City Council.

This questionnaire is due Monday, December 22. You can use my responses as inspiration.

As a warning, the endorsement interviews are prone to picking a question and asking the candidate a bunch of questions about something s/he may not even have a strong opinion about. I would recommend politely asking to discuss a matter that's central to your campaign, not spending a bunch of time discussing something that is a minor issue for you.

Section 1: City Council Reform & Ethics

Running for office requires the art of diplomacy. Some of the questions in this section aren't that important. Chicago is nowhere near having support for publicly financed City Council elections. But it's an issue that's important to someone.

You can either fib on these questions and just tell IVI-IPO what they want to hear. Or, you can tell something closer to how you really feel.

If you aren't 100% onboard with these reform ideas and you get asked about one you aren't sold on or don't consider important, tactfully steer the conversation to the reforms you believe are important.

And remind the interviewers that the first step of improving City Council is to get a critical mass of people who actually believe in the goal of making things better through reform.

It doesn't take a bunch of skill to tell IVI-IPO what they want to hear on any one question. But ideological agreement on a questionnaire ain't really the same as being able to apply critical thinking to these issues.

1. Do you favor maintaining the cur­rent number of City Council committees?
[Essay] Which committees, if any, would you combine or eliminate? 

Nothing like starting with the arcane stuff. Here's the list of committees.

Possible answer:
There are 50+ committees and only two have less than fifteen members: Aviation Finance & Pedestrian & Traffic Safety.

But a goofy committee structure is more a symptom than the problem. City Council needs aldermen who aspire to be legislators who use the committee process to vet and improve ideas before enacting them into ordinances and city code.

Once City Council has a critical mass of aldermen who see themselves as legislators, the structure of committees will get better. But no amount of tinkering with committee structures will turn "rubber stamps" into a bunch of Paul Simons and Leon Despres.

2. What reforms are necessary in the City Council's committee rules and structure?
Possible answer:

The one thing I'm sure of is that City Council needs to take more time on the big decisions like the parking meter deal. Decisions that involve large amounts of money need time to read, study and digest the proposals.

Again, no amount of process reform is going to thwart 40 aldermen who are bent on abusing process. The block of aldermen trying to do right by the people needs to be bigger.

3. Would you give the Inspector General’s office independent subpoena power or other compulsory process that can be directed against city officials, agencies and employees without necessitation the approval of the Mayor or Corporation Counsel? 
Possible answer:

Yes, but... The Inspector General needs to set a higher standard for behavior for himself and his staff. Kelly Tarrant going back-and-forth between partisan campaign work and working for the IG is... weird.

If someone works on a campaign and then goes on to investigate someone aligned with the candidate she was campaigning against, it looks like--it's at least possible--that investigations are getting used to retaliate or apply negative feedback to personal rivals of IG employees.

To me it's weird this even has to be explained to the IG. So, in theory, I like having an IG empowered to act independently. In practice, I have reservations about the judgment of the current IG.

4. Should the Inspector General be able to initiate his or her own investigations of Aldermen without a complaint from outside the office?
Possible answer:

I support initiating an investigation based on information that ethics violations or criminal acts are occurring. I do not support the IG doing anything that looks like entrapment (eg the FBI antics where they dangle $5-10K in front of some idiot).

The IG should certainly be empowered to read through documents, as David Hoffman did with the parking meter deal. And if the IG finds irregularities, s/he should be empowered to dig deeper without having to recruit someone to be the official complainant.

5. Should the Inspector General be able to pursue anonymous complaints?

Possible answer:

Short answer: yes. The IG should be able to set her/his own standards for how much effort to put into investigating complaints that are made anonymously or with incomplete information or documentation.
6. Do you support patronage in hiring and promoting public employees?

Possible answer: 

Jobs should be distributed in a way that is fair demographically and geographically. The rules about hiring should be reasonably easy to follow, transparent and consistently enforced.

I do not support the model where aldermen (or committeemen) control more jobs as they percolate up in seniority.

But social connections do play a role in getting jobs in any large organization. If you think there's a better civil service model for hiring and promotion, I'm open to bringing it to Chicago.

At this point I'm more concerned with privatization corrupting government in Chicago than I am about the ward organizations of Ed Burke, Dick Mell and Ed Vrdolyak corrupting the city.

7. Will you employ or have you employed staff, in your office who hold other public sector jobs concurrently?

Possible answer:

This is one of those questions where you check the block "no" and if you change your mind later, so be it.

8. Will you employ or have you employed staff, in your office who have either outside employment or contracts with entities which do business with the City?

Possible answer:

I have no problem adopting any reasonable "conflict of interest" policy, but if someone does part-time work that has no "conflict of interest" I'm not going to tell someone they are breaking the rules to do dog walking or some part-time work at a bar or restaurant.

9. Will you vote for an ordinance mandating that the City contest unemployment claims by former employees who were fired for cause?

Possible answer:
I support this. I have some concerns about low level employees being fired by supervisors who are vindictive. But the only way to find the abusive supervisors is to contest the unemployment.

10. Will you vote for an ordinance forbidding the City to hire or contract the services of anyone previously fired for cause from the City or any other unit of government?

Possible answer:

Yes. I would add people convicted of corruption or misconduct, people who resigned while under investigation for certain charges (eg sexual harassment) and people convicted of vote fraud and other forms of election tampering.

I also think City of Chicago should be looking at how to apply appropriate restrictions to private entities contracted for services with taxpayer money.

11. Will you support an ordinance to reduce the number of wards?

Possible answer:

I'm not opposed to it, but I'm not persuaded it will improve city government.

Right now, wards are small enough that an outsider can get elected by talking to lots and lots of voters. This isn't really practical in a Cook County commissioner district.

What if reducing size of city council reduces the number of high performers as well as low performers.

I have reservations about reducing the number of seats on City Council.

12. Have you joined or will  you join:
The Paul Douglas Caucus

The Independent Progressive Caucus 


Possible answer: 

There are a couple wards a candidate might want to avoid committing to the "Progressive Reform Caucus" or whatever they're called these days, eg Ward 2 (aka, the "we love Rahm & Rauner" ward).

I would be surprised if there's anywhere outside Joe Moore's basement bar where being part of the Paul Douglas Caucus gets you anything.

If you want the IVI-IPO endorsement, the best answer is "Independent Progressive Caucus". If you don't want the IVI-IPO endorsement, why are you bothering with the questionnaire?

13. Do you support changing the state statute to return to filling aldermanic vacancies by special election, rather than Mayoral appointment?

Possible answer:

I like ending the practice of having the Mayor appoint alderman. It does have a plantation feel to it.

But I'm not totally enamored with spending money on a new election.

Possible solutions: what if the most recent candidate to get at least 40% of the vote became alderman upon the existence of a vacancy?

Or, if the alderman resigns or is convicted, the Mayor appoints an administrator who doesn't have the power to vote in City Council? Most vacancies are created by voters electing corrupt aldermen. There should be some penalty for electing someone corrupt.

14. Will you vote for an ordinance requiring redistricting of the wards to be based on non-partisan criteria and not to benefit any specific individual or political party?

Possible answer:

My top objection to the current map is that wards are not equal in size. This would not be constitutional if it were a state legislature or a map of US House seats.

My other objection is counting incarcerated individuals as living in prison. They should be counted at their last known address or at the address they will return to after incarceration. This is a social justice issue that is also a Chicago issue.

I'm somewhat skeptical of non-partisan maps. But the City Council made such a hash of the last map, I'd be willing to try something new that works better.

15. Will you or have you accepted campaign donations from current or potential suppliers or employees?

Possible answer:

I'm not sure what "suppliers" means in this context.

16. Will you or have you accepted campaign donations from people or businesses seeking zoning changes in your ward?

Possible answer:

Once an alderman knows a party is seeking a zoning change, accepting a campaign contribution would seem to be illegal. Also, this is how a bunch of aldermen have gone to prison.

The thornier situation is when someone has given money in the past and then asks for zoning changes.

Which alderman has the best system for dealing with this issue?

I don't want to relinquish my ability to shape the direction of the ward over a $250 contribution six years ago. But it obviously looks corrupt if lawyers who gave thousands of dollars are getting zoning changes for their clients.

17. Do you support public financing of municipal campaigns? 

Possible answer: 

The starting point for this discussion should be that we already have public money being spent on campaigns. Incumbents use public money to build name recognition. Communications "consultants" who "volunteer" on campaigns gets commissions on public ad buys. Lawyers who are indirectly compensated by the government do nominating petition challenges.

Here's how I would like to move toward publicly financed elections. Let's start with the Cook County Assessor, township assessors and the Board of Review. It will be part of the property tax bill. People understand that the Board of Review and Cook County Assessor elections are funded by people who do property tax appeals. It's a clear quid pro quo.

By focusing on property tax assessment, it will be part of the process that everyone agrees is corrupt now, and it will be limited in scope. It will be a limited number of candidates, not a major jobs program for political consultants.

Let's show public financing works on a small scale before attempting something as ambitious as all fifty wards.

19. What changes would you support to the redistricting process?

Possible answer:

Have the people submit maps. Then let citizens sign-on to the map they like the best. Take the six most popular maps and put them on the ballot. Let the people rank the maps. The most popular map gets adopted.

Take City Council out of the process.



  1. If you have an answer you like, please post in comments.

    The point is to make it easier for candidates and campaigns, not to make all the questionnaires the same.

  2. I'm going to keep working on the questionnaire, but I'm going to start at the bottom (as suggested by a candidate) b/c most of the candidates/campaigns started at the top.