Sunshine ordinance wins approval

The Chicago City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that will establish a Web site to publish information on tax increment finance districts across the city.

Mayor Daley's critics have argued the TIFs have created a slush fund for developers at the expense of revenues for schools and other local governments.

The ordinance, drafted after the abrupt closure of the Republic Windows and Doors plant in December, advanced from a joint committee yesterday.

Some questioned whether 1st Ward Alderman Manny Flores and 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, co-sponsors of the measure, would receive a 26 vote majority of the city council to pass the legislation.

But 48 aldermen voted yes in quick succession.

Lance Lewis, a spokesman for the Mayor's office, says Daley was not in the office today and would likely not be issuing a statement on the ordinance.

Flores says that "by passing the TIF Sunshine ordinance today, the residents of the City Chicago win."

TIFs are established to fund improvements in areas suffering from blight. The TIF diverts a portion of property taxes generated in the district to redevelopment. That money is used to make the payments on bonds for projects in the district such as new streets, sidewalks, sewers and other infrastructure.

Republic Windows and Doors received $10 million in credits from tax increment financing districts on the pledge that they would keep more than 600 jobs at the plant through 2019.

When the plant closed, aldermen began questioning whether the process that awarded Republic the funds had been transparent enough.

The ordinance mandates create of a Web site that will include annual reports related to the TIFs as well as financial information associated with them. According to one local data expert who helped the aldermen craft their ordinance, the measure represents a step in the right direction.

"Alderman Waguespack and Alderman Flores deserve a lot of credit for working this ordinance through committee for a vote by the full City Council tomorrow," says Daniel X. O'Neil of the data aggregation Web site Everyblock.com.

But the ordinance does leave some functionality on the table, according to O'Neil, because it lacks provisions to publish the data in reusable formats like RSS, a syndication format, or XML, which would tag the documents for easier identification and sorting.

Also, while the measure is a step in the right direction, applying it to the rest of the city's information would be preferable, according to O'Neil.

"A better, more sustainable approach would be for the City of Chicago to adopt a formal Data Sharing Policy to cover all types of information relating to how city government is spending money. In our work at EveryBlock, we have been told for more than a year and a half that the City was creating such a policy, but we have yet to see anything come of it."

Flores said yesterday RSS is on the horizon and he remains committed to pushing for it. RSS capability would permit users to monitor updates to the site through a Web service or application, rather than having to check the site regularly.

Staff Writer Fernando Diaz covers labor and unions for the Daily News. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 14, or fernando [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.

Discuss

THOMAS WESTGARD, 04-23-2009

While I agree with Dan O'Neil's goals, the Daley administration just made a big concession. I think now is the time to celebrate success, rather than immediately demanding additional concessions. Doing that creates the impression of an insatiable demand for concessions.