Yesterday’s morning hearings moved quickly under the sharp tongue of Budget Chair Carrie Austin, although at one point Board of Ethics Director Steve Berlinsaid Aldermanic ethics were “doing OK.” The afternoon hearings were focused on three hours of questions for Public Health Commissioner Julie Morita on the city’s mental health services and HIV clinics. Keeping things moving, Austin waived the testimony of department heads and went straight to aldermanic questions and answers.

Morning Attendance: Budget Chair Carrie Austin (34), Joe Moreno (1), Pat Dowell (3), Leslie Hairston (5), Roderick Sawyer (6), Gregory Mitchell (7), Michelle Harris (8), Sue Sadlowski Garza (10), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Marty Quinn (14), Raymond Lopez (15), Toni Foulkes (16), David Moore (17), Matt O’Shea (19), Willie Cochran (20), Howard Brookins (21), Ricardo Munoz (22), Michael Scott Jr. (24), Roberto Maldonado (26), Walter Burnett Jr. (27), Jason Ervin (28), Chris Taliaferro (29), Milly Santiago (30), Ariel Reboyras (31), Scott Waguespack (32), Deb Mell (33), Gilbert Villegas (36), Emma Mitts (37), Nicholas Sposato (38), Marge Laurino (39), Anthony Napolitano (40), Brendan Reilly (42), Michele Smith (43), Tom Tunney (44), James Cappleman (46), Ameya Pawar (47), Harry Osterman (48), Joe Moore (49), Deb Silverstein (50)

BUILDINGS

Comm. Judy Frydland announced in her written testimony that city building permits issued increased by 2.2% in 2015, the highest number of permits in the last five years. As a response, the city will be adding 21 new inspectors before the end of the year. To help pay for growing department needs, permit fees are proposed to go up in the coming budget, the first building permit fee increase since 1999.

Her submitted written testimony.

The majority of aldermanic questions were either praise for the Commissioner and her staff or questions about how the department can assist their ward in one way or another. Although there were a few nuggets of information that came out during the Q&A.

Asking about the building registration program created in 2011 the Emanuel administration, Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30) asked if banks are being compliant with registration.

Frydland responded, “We have over 7,000 buildings that are currently registered this year. The banks seem to be very responsive when we hear something has been broken into… We’ve been focusing our efforts on buildings that don’t have a lender involved. A lot of times you have a building where an owner passed away and you don’t have someone who has inherited or there’s no probate involved… We’re putting those buildings into court.”

“Banks are no longer the primary problem. It’s now about getting people to stay current on their mortgages,” she said.

Ald. Sue Sadlowski Garza (10) asked about vacant buildings with large outstanding water bills, and whether there’s a way water bills could be waived so they could be sold and back on tax rolls.

Frydland responded, “We do have a plan to try to help find new developers and buildings that have demolition orders. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be posting a list of all the demo orders on our website and we’ll be posting a procedure if someone is interested in [vacant property] so we can do a forfeiture in circuit court.”

 

FLEET AND FACILITIES MANAGEMENT

Interrupting a 41-minute light speed question and answer session, Comm. David Reynolds turned somber to apologize to aldermen for problems with landscaping.

“Our kickoff for the landscape season this year is one of the most embarrassing things I have overseen since I’ve been in this department… This was an aberration, I will not let it happen next year,” he said. Reynolds blamed contract transitions and claimed personal responsibility.

Reynolds’ submitted, written testimony.

Most of the aldermanic questions focused on what properties the city plans to sell or if there are ways to sell certain properties. But at one point, Ald. Marty Quinn (13) broke his long Council meeting silence when he asked how city properties are selected for sale for proceeds. Reynolds replied that the lots sold near 740 N. Sedgwick was “opportunistic” and unusual. For the most part, the city will continue to liquidate former fire and police stations and ward yards.

Finally, answering a question from Ald. Matt O’Shea (19) about how many police cars are in the entire police fleet, Reynolds listed:

  • 424 marked sedans

  • 692 unmarked sedans

  • 852 marked SUVs

  • 301 unmarked SUVs

Regarding Ford Interceptors, produced in the 10th Ward, the city has received 744 new vehicles, 132 on order.
 

BOARD OF ETHICS

Another brisk question and answer session, mostly focused on explaining city procedures, was marked by a brief exchange between Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) and Ethics Director Steve Berlin.

“How we doing ethically, we doing OK?” asked Ald. Reilly.

“Ethically, yes, I think we’re doing OK,” responded Berlin cheerily. “Yes we are. I am very happy to say that.”

As Ald. Walter Burnett (27) later called it, the Board of Ethics Q&A session was a “lovefest.”

Berlin’s submitted, written testimony.

Ald. Joe Moore (49), who requested extra time from the Chair to ask additional questions about Board procedure, received a sharp look from Chair Austin and, “You want a round two?”

Moore in particular drilled in on the results of investigations from the now-expired Office of the Legislative Inspector General. According to city ordinance, OLIG investigations needed to be forwarded to the Board of Ethics for review. Responding to questions from Moore, Berlin revealed that:

  • 47 petitions were made by OLIG to the Board of Ethics

  • 26 investigations are still underway

  • 21 resulted in completed investigations

    • 8 were dismissed by the OLIG

    • 4 were dismissed by Board of Ethics for lack of probable cause

    • 2 cases were referred and are still pending

    • 7 have been completed

Berlin referred aldermen to the tally of OLIG reports on the Board’s website for more information.
 

PUBLIC HEALTH

Hammering away at the 2012 shutdown of six city-operated mental health clinics, aldermen questioned Department of Public Health Commissioner Julie Morita for more than three hours Thursday about a possible privatization of the City’s HIV care clinics and the state of CDPH’s role in city mental health.

Afternoon Attendance: Joe Moreno (1), Pat Dowell (3), Leslie Hairston (5), Roderick Sawyer (6), Gregory Mitchell (7), Sue Sadlowski Garza (10), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Raymond Lopez (15), Toni Foulkes (16), David Moore (17), Willie Cochran (20), Michael Scott Jr. (24), Walter Burnett Jr. (27), Jason Ervin (28), Chris Taliaferro (29), Ariel Reboyras (30), Milly Santiago (31), Deb Mell (33), Gilbert Villegas (36), Emma Mitts (37), Nicholas Sposato (38), Anthony Napolitano (41), Brendan Reilly (42), Tom Tunney (44), John Arena (45) James Cappleman (46), Ameya Pawar (47), Harry Osterman (48), Joe Moore (49)

Morita, hoarse after her testimony, told Aldertrack the changes are less about privatization and more of a partnership. “I think we’re exploring an opportunity to actually partner with community service providers who provide care already,” she said after the hearing. “There’s $21.5 million that already goes to community providers to provide primary care for HIV. What we’re considering whether or not we’d take the $1.5 million that we’re using for our own primary care clinics and making it available to providers to provide care in our locations.”

Morita’s full testimony.

Morita says services will continue at the city’s Englewood Clinic location, and would stay in the Uptown community, but not necessarily at the same clinic location because there are a variety of providers in the area already.

AFSCME Council 31who WBEZ reported represents at least 17 employees at those clinics, did not respond to requests for comment after the hearing.

Through the transition, Morita says, the City can achieve a broader spectrum of care, including help with housing, case management, and substance abuse for more people than they would running clinics by themselves, and ultimately prevent the spread of HIV. She says this would increase care for 2,000 patients, 1,500 more than they’re currently serving. HIV care stakeholders have been advocating for this partnership, Morita says.

Several aldermen, including some who voted for the 2012 closures, asked what measures CDPH would take to prevent people “slipping through the cracks.” CDPH is committed to making the transition seamless, she says. Morita says during the mental health clinic transition there were no funded agencies like the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and Chicago House to specifically help with the transition.

Ald. Joe Moore (49) asked, “What are we going to do to try to address this continuing issue that besets us with respect to the mentally ill? I know we’re not being helped by state cuts,” he asked.

Morita says the city is focusing its mental health efforts on at-risk communities, including work with the Cook County Jail, homeless and undocumented populations, and school children. “We know we have limited resources, we’re looking to foundations and philanthropy…we don’t want to be duplicative, we don’t want to be redundant.”

Ald. John Arena (45) asked for more information on case managers through the chair, and Ald. Moore asked for data on the transition from CDPH clinics to private providers in 2012. Aldermen were also referred to a June 2014 Mental Services Report from CDPH.

Out of 6 clinical sites left after the closings in 2012, CDPH only has one full time psychiatrist, an issue aldermen revisited several times. The Department has been using temporary psychiatrists to fill the gaps.

“We have a job posting out,” Morita says, “It’s not just a problem specific to Chicago, it’s a national shortage.” 

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5) pushed back. “You’re nowhere near competitive,” saying state psychiatrists make $50 more per hour than in Chicago. “You all are so far below the bar that you’re not going to get anybody.”

Morita says the department is already starting to interview candidates, after several changes to make positions more appealing, including a salary increase and a new designation for Chicago health centers as Health Shortage Service Areas. This allows applicants with outstanding medical school loans to be repaid by the federal government in exchange for working in underserved areas. Morita says CDPH is also considering loosening residency requirements to get more candidates.

Aldermen also asked about whether additional tobacco taxes were on the way.

“As far as I know, there have been no fatalities linked to the use of e-cigarettes, yet, it’s real easy to get cancer from chewing tobacco. Why have we not touched that?” Ald. Brendan Reilly asked, saying the UK has recognized e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking.

Ald. Joe Moreno (1), currently championing an ordinance taxing e-cigarette containers and liquid that’s currently included in the FY2016 budget said laws in Springfield prohibited the city from taxing smokeless tobacco. But he says now the Law Department seems to have found a way to make it happen. “I have an ordinance ready to go,” he said.  

Morita defended the e-cigarette tax, saying CDPH is focused on cutting down tobacco use by youth overall. Reilly asked whether the tax, currently set at $1.25 per cartridge and $0.25 per milliliter of liquid, is enough. Morita says yes, because “youth are more price sensitive,” but says she is open to other measures to reduce all tobacco use.