CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration is pushing back hard on a proposal from the City Council to reshuffle mental health spending to reopen city-backed clinics, saying the plan would veer the city off its existing path to widening psychiatric outreach.
The ordinance (O2021-4773) authored by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33) is one of eight proposed amendments progressive aldermen and community groups submitted to the city’s 2022 budget last week in separate attempts to tweak Lightfoot’s $16.7 billion spending plan. Other measures would boost funding for lead pipe replacement, violence prevention and other initiatives above and beyond the allocations Lightfoot rolled out as part of her Chicago Recovery Plan last month.
Rodriguez-Sanchez’s measure, which would seize $10 million of the $151 million earmarked to the Chicago Department of Public Health from the federal American Rescue Plan for spending on “mental health clinics,” is the only proposal of the bunch that has scored support from a majority of the City Council. As of Monday, it listed 25 co-sponsors.
The $1.9 billion federal windfall coming to Chicago presents “an incredible opportunity for us to fulfil the promise” that Lightfoot and multiple aldermen made during their 2019 campaigns to reopen the six public mental health clinics that former Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed in 2012, Rodriguez-Sanchez told The Daily Line on Monday.
“We have a crisis of mental health in this city, and the public mental health clinics are a fundamental piece of making sure we are providing it,” she said. “We have not set up those public clinics for success.”
But city health officials say her plan would throw a wrench into Lightfoot’s ongoing effort to expand mental health services by other means. Health department Comm. Allison Arwady sent a two-page letter to aldermen on Friday urging them to reject Rodriguez-Sanchez’s “concerning” proposal, saying it would sap resources from the “Trauma-Informed Centers of Care network” the city is “weaving together” with funding from various sources.
The “centers of care” model has already expanded to serve 26,000 Chicagoans during the first half of this year, up from 3,600 in all of 2019, Arwady wrote.
“This is many more clients, with a wider range of needs, than the City of Chicago has served in decades, if not ever — and we’re still expanding,” the commissioner wrote, adding that the mayor’s “2022 mental health budget plan” would more than double the city’s overall mental health spending to $86 million.
The plan “would result in a seven-fold increase in mental health funding since 2019, with significant investments in organizations rooted in communities,” according to the letter.
But the city should be expanding its mental health outreach by investing directly in city-run clinics — not in outside organizations, which are harder to track and regulate, Rodriguez-Sanchez argued. Publicly funded nonprofits typically pay clinicians less and employ non-union staff with higher rates of turnover, threatening the clinics’ abilities to “build long-term relationships with clients,” she said.
“We can’t just decide ‘this is the cheapest way to address the trauma of this city’…when we actually are getting the funding to build up a public mental health system that can be accountable to the people of Chicago,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said.
“We’re seeing government run like a business, and that’s a problem,” the alderwoman added. “Government is not a business. It’s a lifeline. People need these services, and we can’t cut corners.”
Aldermen sparred with Arwady in 2019 over reopening the city’s mental health clinics, hobbling her confirmation as she defended the 2012 closures.
Health department officials are set to brief aldermen Tuesday on the Lightfoot’s mental health plan in advance of Friday, when the Committee on Budget and Government Operations is due to take up Lightfoot’s budget appropriation (O2021-4240) and management (O2021-4238) ordinances.
Lightfoot said during a news conference Monday that she has not yet had time to “digest” the proposed budget amendments, “but as always we work in good faith [with] the members of City Council to see where we can reach some common ground if possible.”
The mayor said her office has begun reaching out to sponsors of the proposed amendments “and where we can reach some common ground, we will.”
Still, the “most important thing is we got to move forward,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve got a lot of people across the city that have significant needs that we’ve got to meet now and in the future.”
Advocates for the budget amendments gave a hat tip to Lightfoot’s budget for meeting some of their demands, but don’t think the spending plan goes far enough.
“We recognize that the mayor’s budget proposal this year is as close as we’ve seen from this administration to [the] community’s demands of the work we’ve done since 2019 and most recently around the [American Rescue Plan] funding,” Kennedy Bartley, legislative director for United Working Families, told The Daily Line on Monday.
Still, some communities “are being left out” and advocates introduced the budget amendments “to meet the needs of folks we’ve talked to on the ground in our communities,” Bartley said.
“We have to ensure that the mayor’s proposal is structurally and not rhetorically a rescue budget,” Bartley said. “We need real oversight and transparency, and we will present legislation to ensure that that happens.”
Bartley said the Chicago Budget Coalition — composed of grassroots community organizations, labor groups and elected officials — has not yet heard back from Lightfoot’s office regarding the proposed budget amendments.
Cutting police vacancies, spending on CPD advertising
Separately, a proposed budget amendment (O2021-4761) from Ald. Maria Hadden (49) would cut out of next year’s police department budget about 300 vacant sworn officer positions that police Supt. David Brown said the department will not be able to fill next year, representing $44 million in savings.
“We’re looking at what’s the margin of sworn officer vacancies we cannot fill in 2022, and can we zero them out?” Hadden told The Daily Line on Monday. “Can we take away the money we’re planning for the positions” that cannot be filled “and use it for something else?”
Hadden said there is “no reason” between $40 million and $50 million should be “just sitting there” if the police department cannot fill the positions.
Another budget amendment (O2021-4763) proposed by Rodriguez-Sanchez and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25) would hold the police department’s spending on “advertising” at $2,400 instead of the department’s proposal to balloon the line item to $230,000.
While Hadden’s proposed amendment is not tied to any specific spending proposal and discussion is ongoing, she said the money could help bolster funding for non-police public safety measures or prop up efforts to preserve Chicago’s existing stock of Single-Room Occupancy buildings.
Hadden said her proposal (O2021-4762) to direct $70 million to preserve existing Single-Room Occupancy buildings would help the city address the demand for affordable housing.
“In the affordable housing crisis we’re in right now, a lot of our SRO buildings are of a certain age, and not preserving them will only displace more people and lead to homelessness for more residents,” Hadden said, adding that preserving existing buildings is usually more cost-effective than building new.
Lightfoot’s Chicago Recovery Plan sets aside $35 million to add new units of “supportive housing” in rehabbed buildings and $30 million for a “non-congregate housing program” that would allow the city to expand its use of former hotels for “permanent supportive housing.” The initiative is designed to help Chicago residents who do not have permanent living situations.
When it comes to acquiring and developing the hotels, the city is focusing on Single-Room Occupancy developments, Department of Housing Comm. Marisa Novara told aldermen during a budget hearing earlier this month.
Defunding ShotSpotter contract
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35) introduced a budget amendment (O2021-4778) that would end the city’s contract with gun detection technology company ShotSpotter. Chicago’s contract with the controversial company has come under increased scrutiny after the city in December extended its up to $33 million contract with ShotSpotter, Block Club reported in August. The agreement was extended through August 2023.
Ramirez-Rosa’s proposal has nine co-sponsors.
A report published in August by the Office of Inspector General’s Public Safety section found that the ShotSpotter technology is not “effective” in “developing evidence of gun-related crime.” And Chicago Police Supt. David Brown faced several questions on the technology during his department’s budget hearing earlier this month.
- ShotSpotter ‘seldom’ detects gun-related crimes for investigation, watchdog report shows
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The recent reports from the MacArthur Justice Center and Chicago’s inspector general showing ShotSpotter alerts more often than not lead to no evidence of gunfire point to “a lot of reason to believe this technology is not doing what it claims to be doing,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
And using the ShotSpotter technology is changing the way police respond to communities, Ramirez-Rosa said, adding that if they get an alert from ShotSpotter, officers are “going out there as if it was shots fired” and is “an active place where shorts are being fired.”
That can be an issue if there isn’t a safety threat and leads to complaints from residents about how police respond to their communities, Ramirez-Rosa said.
“That’s a lot of [the] reason why we as a city should terminate the contract with ShotSpotter,” he said, adding the matter is a budget issue if the city is “serious about good governing and making sure we have good investments with public safety dollars.”
A City Council committee hearing on ShotSpotter had been scheduled for last week, but Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29) rescheduled the hearing for Nov. 12.
Ramirez-Rosa told The Daily Line he is holding briefings on Tuesday with representatives from the MacArthur Justice Center and the Public Safety Inspector General’s office in hopes more aldermen will “support this amendment and cancel the contract and free up $9 million.”
Additional budget amendments proposed last week and backed by the Chicago Budget Coalition include:
O2021-4668 — A proposal from Ald. Daniel La Spata (1) that would dedicate $10 million in federal American Rescue Plan dollars to “eviction prevention counseling.”
O2021-4667 — A proposal authored by La Spata to allocate $50 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to the city’s Department of Water Management for “reducing lead in drinking water.” Department of Water Management Comm. Andrea Cheng told aldermen during her department’s budget hearing earlier this month that the city has replaced 10 of the city’s approximately 10,000 lead service lines under its “equity” program dedicated to such replacements.
O2021-4666 — A proposed budget amendment from Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25) to add about $15 million to violence prevention under the Department of Family and Support Services. The funding would come from police vacancies or “efficiencies” in the police department’s budget, a spokesperson for Sigcho-Lopez told The Daily Line.
Aldermen also introduced the following other new proposals last week:
O2021-4764 — A proposal from Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10) and Ald. George Cardenas (12) to create a “tree removal and replacement protocol” and add requirements for trees to be replaced if they are removed for construction or utility work. The protocol stipulates that every public tree that is removed “shall be replaced on a tree-per-tree basis” with the head of the city’s forestry bureau having discretion over the type of replacement trees.
The new protocol gives those who remove trees 12 months to replace them, up from a previous six-month window. Additionally, the new protocol requires that each replacement tree be placed “in the parkway on the same block as the removed tree,” though the forestry bureau can designate an alternate space if “there is no acceptable spot” or there are other reasons a replacement may not be practical, according to the proposal. The proposal also requires that anyone responsible for new buildings or excavations “take into account the presence of trees and take every effort to minimize tree loss and damage” in accordance with the “Tree Protection Detailed Specifications” issued by the city.
R2021-1130 — A proposal from Ald. Andre Vasquez (40) to “fully fund” the inoculation of the city’s approximately 50,000 ash trees affected by the invasive emerald ash borer. Vasquez in his resolution requests $6 million be set aside to chemically inoculate all of the city’s ash trees for three years. WBEZ earlier this month reported on advocates’ push to save the trees, rather than allowing them to die off and be cut down. Bureau of Forestry chief Malcolm Whiteside told aldermen during a budget hearing earlier this month that the trees have already been pumped with chemicals to stave off the need to remove all remaining ash trees at once. “There’s enough chemicals in those trees to last for another 10 years,” as the city works to replace them, Whiteside said. Vasquez’s resolution has 41 co-sponsors.
R2021-1128 — A resolution sponsored by Ald. Michele Smith (43) and Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29) calling for the City Council Committee on Public Safety to host a hearing to “investigate how best to combat gun violence in the City and how to foster cooperation among local agencies responsible for the apprehension and prosecution of criminal offenders.” As of Monday, the resolution had 17 co-sponsors.
O2021-4756 — An ordinance by Lightfoot proposing various “corrections” to the city’s municipal code, including by eliminating a requirement for property owners to include a statement of employee “base wages” when applying for city tax incentives. The ordinance would also delete a provision allowing the City Clerk’s office to issue “free floating vehicle parking permits.”
R2021-1127 — A resolution sponsored by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36) calling for the City Council to hold a hearing to press leaders of the Department of Assets, Information and Serivces on its “data sharing practices and tools.” Villegas has been critical of the department’s handling of the city’s tech infrastructure, arguing the city should reconstitute its former Department of Innovation and Technology.
O2021-4768 — An ordinance proposed by Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6) and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5) that would give aldermen the authority to allow a Social Equity Applicant or Social Equity Justice Involved Applicant to open a cannabis dispensary within 1,500 feet from an existing dispensary. Such dispensary applicants would be required on an annual basis to prove to the alderman that they qualify as a Social Equity Applicant or Social Equity Justice Involved Applicant.
R2021-1123 — A resolution from Cardenas calling on the Department of Water Management to “identify programmatic solutions” to address flooding and to publish a report within one year that includes a “comprehensive proposal for mitigating the devastating Impacts of flooding” across the city.