Mayor Rahm Emanuel today prodded aldermen to pick from an approved list of construction projects when spending $1.3 million a year in discretionary funds within their wards.
Aldermen this year will still be able to spend so-called menu money as they see fit, but there’s debate in the Emanuel administration about requiring aldermen to choose from projects on an approved list next year, said Ald. Joe Moore, 49th.
“I welcome the mayor’s input as to what they believe will be high-priority projects,” Moore said, making it clear that’s as far as he wants the mayor to go. “Ultimately, they should leave it to the discretion of the local alderman and, in my case, to the discretion of the community through an informed process.”
Emanuel told aldermen in a letter sent out Monday his goal was to help them determine which projects are the most needed and how best to coordinate construction work being done by the city and its sister agencies to save money. Such coordination could help avoid repaving a street, only to tear it up again to install water mains or sewers, he said.
Emanuel budget spokeswoman Kathleen Strand said “there have been no discussions” about requiring aldermen to choose from the new lists.
Moore holds public meetings on potential projects and then lets his constituents vote on them.
The process has resulted in some unusual use of his ward’s menu fund. He spends about $80,000 a year to let residents park free overnight at meters in a lot near the lakefront at Loyola Park, which is allowed because the money goes into the district’s fund for major projects.
Former Mayor Richard Daley started giving each of the city’s 50 aldermen so-called menu money in 1994, allowing aldermen to be more responsive to the people who elected them and also grateful to the administration.
Emanuel this year cut tens of millions of dollars in spending, but left intact the $66 million discretionary funding.
Some budget experts save questioned the wisdom of allowing aldermen to choose projects.
Construction work should be done based on the overall needs of the city, schools, parks and public transportation system, “not based on political boundaries,” said Laurence Msall, president of the non-partisan Civic Federation, a budget watchdog group.