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Screw 311, Just Dial Direct to the Machine

By Jocelyn Geboy in News on Feb 14, 2007 4:02PM

We read a little story in the Sun-Times the other day that had us scratching our heads a little. Well, actually, a lot.

First, we were thrown off kilter to see that the story advocated bypassing 311 in all sorts of situations (squirrels in gutters, potholes in the street, needing a building permit) for ringing up our alderman (alderperson?). However given that our alderman can "intervene on our behalf to resolve these problems twice as fast as it might take you if you were to call the city's nonemergency 3-1-1 number or directly call a city department," maybe it's not such a bad idea. Then, we were shocked to find that the aldermen make $98,125 a year (!!), and maybe we'll reconsider.

2007_02natarus.jpgMarty Oberman, former 43rd Ward alderman (1975-1987), makes it sound like the alderman can do just about anything: "If you have a string of burglaries on your block, sure, you can go to the police department, but typically, you go to the alderman. They can make a call to the right department head to fix it. If your alderman is a forceful advocate, he or she can bring results to your ward." Yeah, if people are breaking into places on your block, why the hell would you call the police? WTF?

It's all about aldermanic privilege — unwritten rules that also allow City Council members to assist residents at their discretion. It's all a part of the Chicago Machine. Using this privilege, aldermen "can initiate or block city government actions concerning their wards, particularly as it relates to zoning, building permits and street improvements." Or try and ban foie gras, street performers, smoking, trans fats or who knows ... iPods while crossing the street?

Here's what you need to know as you go out to vote: the aldermen serve four-year terms in the City Council, which is the legislative branch of city government. You can reach them at their ward office or down at city hall. They all have websites with news and information, calendars, and the ability to make a service request. They sometimes help the community share their views by holding hearings on future City Council agenda items. Conceivably, the ward can share their views with the alderman before they go back to vote.

Normally, the Council meets twice a month, and the real work gets ground out in the 19 standing committees, and their recommendations must be approved by two-thirds of the City Council. So if your alderperson isn't doing the deal (their website isn't up to date, your snow isn't getting shoveled, they don't show up for their office hours or they're just downright controversial), get out and vote someone else in!

"Natarus as a Witch" by swanksalot.