July 18, 2013

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Mayor Andy Berke promised transparency, but we’re still looking

A little more than a year ago, a popular Democratic state senator walked inside a pavilion at Coolidge Park and proclaimed he would run for mayor. 

The crowd swelled and cheered as he laid out his platform. He wanted to focus on education. He would deal with public safety. Finally, he was going to have a transparent government.

The problem? 

The administration of now-Mayor Andy Berke isn't so transparent. As a matter of fact, far from it. And there does not seem to be much interest in turning this around any time soon in City Hall. For the most part, the administration of Berke seems to be stepping back in time and taking an old “political circle” approach. It's nothing new and innovative.  It's simple: Keep your friends close and your friend's friends closer.

From the outset, Berke made sure he would be running a different type of campaign, with limited media access and public comment. Candidate Berke promised the largest grassroots campaign in the history of the city.

He delivered, and in a big way. He recruited a host of 20-somethings to knock on doors across town and the Berke army handed out fliers.

So, what did the public find out about the mayoral candidate?

He likes education, public safety and transparency. What else?

He also likes "Star Wars" and he loves Bruce Springsteen. Let's emphasize that he loves Bruce Springsteen. He really loves Bruce Springsteen.

What did the public learn about his politics?

That he likes to say he loves transparency.

So, how transparent is his new government?

Just weeks before the election, a series of stories came out revealing that his father and uncle owned land throughout the inner city and also owned crime-ridden rental properties. His answer was to put out a small statement on the matter, and then dismiss it. Since his administration has taken office, that has been the modus operandi. When a question comes in, put out a statement. 

Go talk to department heads. You won't be able to. Why? Because they are under orders not to talk to anyone unless given approval from up the chain of command. 

A recent nugget of transparency came from the city just weeks after the Berke administration and the new city council took office. The council decided the public should be allowed to view the committee and regular council meetings live, so a live stream is now available on the city's website.

So far, that is about the only glimpse of transparency the new city government has shown. 

Yet within weeks of becoming mayor, Berke completely changed city government, merging, and in some case, eliminating departments. There are now new departments, including Youth and Family Development, the Department of Transportation and Economic and Community Development.

But what do these departments do—specifically? What are you, the taxpayer, spending your money on? There are yet to be any defined roles of these jobs spelled out anywhere. A reporter recently asked to speak about the paving budget with the Department of Transportation administrator—and was then told paving still fell under Public Works.

The reporter was then told the Transportation Department would be more in charge of planning than operations. So, taxpayer dollars are now being spent on someone that plans to pave the bumpy roads throughout the city. 

Or perhaps the Transportation Department is planning on putting more of the failing bicycle stations across the city. Or perhaps it is planning on putting up more wayfinding signs.

We don't know, because they aren't telling us.

Hard to see clearly if something is opaque—not transparent.


July 18, 2013


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