Drawing the most energized crowd yet, yesterday morning’s budget hearings focused on changes to taxi and rideshare regulations, while the afternoon’s Police Board, Fire Department and Animal Control hearings moved swiftly with considerably less aldermanic attendance and questioning.

Morning Attendance: Joe Moreno (1), Pat Dowell (3), Will Burns (4), Leslie Hairston (5), Roderick Sawyer (6), Gregory Mitchell (7), Michelle Harris (8), Anthony Beale (9), Sue Sadlowski Garza (10), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Marty Quinn (13), David Moore (17), Howard Brookins (21), Ricardo Munoz (22), Michael Scott Jr. (24), Walter Burnett Jr. (27), Chris Taliaferro (29), Ariel Reboyras (30), Milly Santiago (31), Scott Waguespack (32), Deb Mell (33), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Gilbert Villegas (36), Emma Mitts (37), Nicholas Sposato (38), Marge Laurino (39), Anthony Napolitano (41), Brendan Reilly (42), Michele Smith (43), John Arena (45), James Cappleman (46), Harry Osterman (48), Joe Moore (49). VIce Chair Jason Ervin (28) chairing.

BUSINESS AFFAIRS

In a raucous hearing marked by cheers and catcalls from the gallery, proposed regulatory changes for rideshare companies took the majority of the morning, with calls for more strict enforcement of Airbnb regulations running as a secondary theme. But everything ground to a screeching halt shortly before the lunch break, when Budget Committee Chair Carrie Austin gave a pointed speech excoriating aldermen for asking “silly questions” and to the overflow gallery audience for rowdy behavior.

Speaking after television cameras had left and there were few reporters present, Austin’s speech praised Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Comm. Maria Guerra Lapacek for her work, and took just about everyone else in the room to task. Austin, who arrived around 11:00 a.m. and had let Vice Chair Jason Ervinconduct business for the morning, took the microphone for two minutes around noon.

“But if they was having any other problems, why didn’t they come to us before today? But to use this chambers as place for them to have some…oops, calm down Carrie,” the chamber was blanketed in silence as she seemed to compose herself before launching again.

“All of this handclapping like, in my community the taxicabs didn’t come and Uber don’t either! So I don’t know why everybody’s so gung ho on either one. Cause anything on the far South Side Alderman Beale and I haven’t see them. Be it a taxi cab or be it an Uber driver.”

Austin continued for another minute defending Commissioner Lapacek, “Everybody want to showboat!…The next time you come into this chambers to attack you, they’re going to have to deal with me.” Then she slammed down the microphone.

Comm. Lapacek’s written testimony.

Rideshare

Nonetheless, the morning was filled with clapping, cheers and boos, as a group of aldermen (Anthony Beale (9), Scott Waguespack (32), Antonio Munoz (22), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10), Harry Osterman (48), Nick Sposato (38), Pat Dowell (3), John Arena (45), David Moore(17)) pressed Comm. Lapacek on the state of taxicab regulations. As the questioning continued, the administration’s position on rideshare became clear: Industry evolution can’t be stopped and the administration is taking a hands-off attitude.

In one back-and-forth between Ald. Anthony Beale (9) and Comm. Lapacek, Beale was attempting to make the point that unregulated rideshare companies have decimated the value of regulated taxi medallions. In her answers, Comm. Lapacek revealed that in 2014, there were 100 private party medallion sales. In 2015, only 12.

Beale said, “Doesn’t that tell you that we have a problem?”

Lapacek responded, “That WE have a problem?”

Her comment was followed by derisive laughter and applause from large gallery section of taxi drivers.

Despite the charged atmosphere, most of the discussion focused on requiring rideshare drivers to have the same licensing as taxi drivers, for both safety and city revenue reasons. Assuming 30,000 drivers and $200 annual fee, many aldermen focused on a $60 million annual revenue estimation. Comm. Lapacek retorted that the revenue would likely be significantly less and the number of new staff required to manage rideshare licenses would mean “not a net gain” in city revenue.

Ald. Joe Moreno (1), Joe Moore (49) and Howard Brookins (21) took the side of the rideshare companies, with Moreno giving a fiery speech: “These Uber drivers, mainly Hispanic and African American, are earning money they couldn’t do before Uber and rideshare came here… The taxicab industry didn’t innovate because they didn’t have to… I got your back on rideshare,” said Moreno, followed by battling catcalls and cheers from the gallery.

Some other facts from Comm. Lapacek and her staff from the Q&A session on rideshare:

  • There are about 20,000 Uber drivers and another 10,000 Lyft drivers in Chicago. It’s unclear how much is overlap.

  • 60-80% of rideshare cars are within five years of age.

  • Taxicab industry fees brought in $4.6 million last year, while rideshare companies brought in $3.1 million last year.

  • It costs $200 to obtain a taxi driver license, of which the city only keeps $15. The rest goes to City Colleges for training expenses.

  • About 6,000 taxi rider complaints are registered with the city a year. Last year, only 13 rideshare complaints were registered, but most rideshare complaints likely go to the rideshare companies, not the city, according to Lapacek.

Vacation Rentals/Airbnb

On another topic, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) and Michele Smith (43) pressed Comm. Lapacek to increase enforcement of Airbnb regulations passed earlier this year. Ald. Reilly asked why there are, “about 3,000 nightly vacation rental units advertised in the city of Chicago, yet only about 200 of them are licensed?”

Comm. Lapacek claimed that she does not have the manpower to enforce the law. Reilly suggested requiring a permit number for anyone advertising a location. Those advertisements could just be checked using an internet search, resulting in approximately $1.5M in missed revenue.

 

POLICE BOARD

The first official meeting between new Police Board Chair Lori Lightfoot and the full City Council was sparsely attended Friday afternoon, as Vice Chair Jason Ervincontinued to conduct hearings while a handful of aldermen and staffers stayed in the cloakroom after lunch instead of sitting for Lightfoot’s testimony, which lasted under an hour.

Afternoon Attendance: Pat Dowell (3), Leslie Hairston (5), Anthony Beale (9), Raymond Lopez (15), David Moore (17), Chris Taliaferro (29), Ariel Reboyras (30), Milly Santiago (31), Scott Waguespack (32), Carrie Austin (34), Gilbert Villegas (36), Nicholas Sposato (38), Marge Laurino (39), Anthony Napolitano (41), Michele Smith (43), John Arena (45), James Cappleman (46)

Vice-Chair: Jason Ervin (28)

The Police Board is one of several law-enforcement related budget hearings this month (the Police Department and the Independent Police Review Authority also have their own budget hearings). The Police Board is a civilian body that decides disciplinary cases about allegations of police misconduct, nominates candidates for Superintendent of Police to the Mayor, and adopts rules and regulations for the governance of the Chicago Police Department.

Lightfoot’s submitted written testimony.

Lightfoot’s July appointment hearing in the Committee on Public Safety was markedly testier than Friday’s Q&A with aldermen. At July’s committee meeting, new aldermen Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41), Ald. Chris Taliaferro (both former officers), and Ald. David Moore (17), pressed Lightfoot on improving police/community relations, increasing diversity within the CPD, and how the board would handle a police officer caught lying under oath.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3) was one of six aldermen who had questions for Lightfoot, admitted she doesn’t follow the board, but asked whether police were being adequately punished for misconduct.  

Lightfoot said that impression is one she’s working to correct, and the Police Board is a unique model for civilian oversight in the country. “I can tell you in the two months that I’ve been Police Board President, we’ve had three cases that have come before us that have been fully litigated, if you will. And of those 3 cases, involved a total of 4 officers, we’ve recommended termination in every single one of those instances.”

Those officers have a chance to appeal to Circuit Court. Lightfoot says part of her new role is to publicize the Board’s work and, “disabuse the misnomer that police officers can do whatever they want with reckless abandon.” She says police haven’t gotten away with much in any of her various roles with CPD and law enforcement.

Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30) asked about Dante Servin, an officer recommended for termination by IPRA for shooting into a crowd, killing Rekia Boyd. Superintendent Garry McCarthy could send the case to the Police Board. “It’s not to us [sic], but I can pledge if that case does come to us with a termination recommendation, we’re going to treat it very very seriously. The commitment I made to [Rekia Boyd’s] family is that we make sure we give them information at every step of the process.”

In her prepared testimony, and in response to questioning from Ald. Scott Waguespack (32), Lightfoot said she’s focused on getting cases wrapped up sooner, and says since she started in her role, the average time from filing charges until a decision has dropped, to seven months.

She also pushed back against the Chicago Justice Project’s comparison between the Superintendent’s recommended disciplinary action versus the Police Board’s decision. CJP’s numbers suggest the two rarely agree. Lightfoot says those estimates don’t paint an accurate picture, because the Superintendent and the Police Board work off different information, often from different points in an investigation. “The number’s low, it’s not accurate.”  

 

ANIMAL CARE AND CONTROL

Attendance was bigger and questioning was more spirited during Animal Care and Control Executive Director Sandra Alfred’s hearing than during the Police Board’s moments before. Aldermen complained about raccoons, thanked Alfred for removing snake eggs, praised dog and cat adoption events, and asked the Commissioner whether she’d heard of the now-famous missing rare parrot.

Attendance: Pat Dowell (3) Leslie Hairston (5), Michelle Harris (8), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), George Cardenas (12), Raymond Lopez (15), Willie Cochran (20), Howard Brookins (21), Walter Burnett Jr. (27), Ariel Reboyras (30), Milly Santiago (31), Scott Waguespack (32), Carrie Austin (34), Gilbert Villegas (36), Emma Mitts (37), Nicholas Sposato (38), Anthony Napolitano (41), Brendan Reilly (42), John Arena (45), Vice Chair Jason Ervin (28)

“I have some special issues on the Northwest Side,” namely deer, Ald. Marge Laurino (39) told Alfred. She responded, “Yes, we had one ward that was leaving Whole Foods type of food out for deer… First of all it’s illegal to feed deer in Illinois.”

“Well that’s good to know,” Laurino said.

“I’m seeing more raccoons, possums, I’ve even seen a coyote in my ward,” Ald. Dowell (3) said, “They’re having babies, so we need to have some kind of response. I raise this every year, we do this every year.” Alfred said increased construction is likely leading to more wildlife sightings, and wants to work with aldermen to identify wildlife hotspots.

CACC has received more than 36,000 service requests so far in 2015. Their budget is $5.7 million in FY2016.

Other figures:

  • 1,385 animal bite reports submitted to CACC in 2015

  • 2,504 Municipal Code violations issued by CACC in 2015

  • $75,677 in revenue from dog licensing since 2011

  • 453 specimens submitted to CDPH for rabies testing

Of all the wildlife stories about roosters, “more raccoons than I can mention,” and bats, Ald. Brendan Reilly’s (42) questioning provided the most amusing bit of the hearing: “Are you familiar with this parrot that went missing in Lincoln Park?”

“This what now?” Alfred asked.

“A parrot. A pet parrot.”

“A pet parrot?”

“Parrot. A bird.”

“A bird.”

“Yeah.”

Reilly asked whether CACC dealt with lost pets. Alfred said yes, but mostly cats and dogs, and said people are free to inquire whether the department had found lost pets.

“Keep an eye out for the parrot,” Reilly told aldermen before asking about, and praising a conversion of several full-time positions to part time positions. Alfred said the shift helped with students and part-time applicants who wanted more flexibility. Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) also brought up an issue from his Clerk’s testimony about pet licensing through veterinarian’s offices.

FIRE DEPARTMENT

A quick and mostly laudatory hearing for the Chicago Fire Department closed out the day, with a few aldermen asking about overtime pay for CFD firefighters, which the Office of Inspector General says has increased “significantly.” “While some use of overtime is expected, excessive overtime or inequitable distribution of overtime may indicate that personnel assignments have not been optimized.” Fire Comm. José Santiago told aldermen overtime has actually gone down.

Attendance: Joe Moreno (1), Pat Dowell (3), Leslie Hairston (5), Gregory Mitchell (7), Michelle Harris (8), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Raymond Lopez (15), David Moore (17), Willie Cochran (20), Howard Brookins (21), Ricardo Munoz (22), Michael Scott Jr (24), Walter Burnett Jr. (27), Ariel Reboyras (30), Milly Santiago (31), Scott Waguespack (32), Carrie Austin (34),

The Fire Department has exactly $30 million budgeted for overtime in 2016, up from exactly $20 million in 2015. Santiago says overtime is actually down by a third from last year, when the Department spent over $57 million.

“We had some litigation in the past that prevented us from hiring, but now we’re catching up and we’re continuing to hire.” Santiago told Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30).

Santiago told Ald. David Moore (17) vacancies and a collective bargaining agreement that says a minimum amount of people have to man a truck are driving those costs. “When we have a position that’s open, we have to put someone in that.”

16% of expenditures from the City’s corporate fund go toward Fire–the third biggest expense after Police and the Finance General Fund. It’s budgeted personnel costs for this year are more than $592 million, and its overall budget is up by roughly $29 million.

Other figures from Santiago’s testimony:

  • The entire Chicago Fire Department ambulance fleet is now rated and certified for advanced life support, with 2 licensed paramedics on every ambulance

  • CFD responds to roughly 700,000 calls for service each year

  • The Department’s Public Education Unit has reached out to 55,000 for drills, training, and education on fire safety

  • Fire deaths in Chicago are among the lowest in major cities, which it says is from a robust smoke detector program entirely funded through corporate donations and grants. The majority of deaths are in homes with no smoke detectors

Ald. Willie Cochran (20) pushed Santiago on salary raises and upcoming lieutenant promotions. There are nearly 20 lieutenant promotions planned that will open up vacancies at the firefighter and engineer level. “We are going to hire in November at the firefighter level, so we can fill those vacancies, thus reducing overtime.”

Ald. Carrie Austin (34) closed testimony by thanking the first responders who, “I could almost say saved my life…It was for their fast action that I sit here today, along with the prayers that people prayed for me.” She also said, along with other aldermen, she’d be interested in a round of fire training, though she admitted, laughing, she couldn’t carry equipment up three stairs.