SEP 30, 2021
Public health, police accountability officials up next for budget grilling as COVID-19 cases sag
Comm. Allison Arwady is set to return to the spotlight on Thursday afternoon as she presents the Chicago Department of Public Health’s budget proposal to the City Council.
The City Council Committee on Budget on Government Operations is set to probe a grab bag of city departments on Thursday, as the Board of Ethics seeks to maintain its modest budget and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events seeks a cash infusion to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
And on Thursday afternoon, the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability and Department of Public Health will defend new staff positions they hope to add to their teams.
Board of Ethics
One of the smallest city offices, the Chicago Board of Ethics is set to hold steady at eight full-time employees but will see an uptick in its annual budget to nearly $920,000, mostly due to across-the-board salary hikes for its staff.
The board is responsible for training, educating and consulting city employees on how to stay in line with the Chicago’s mammoth and ever-growing Governmental Ethics Ordinance, as well as adjudicating cases of violations to the ordinance. The board earlier this month issued a “notice of probable cause” that Ald. Jim Gardiner (45) could be on the hook for up to $10,000 in fines for violating anti-retaliation rules in the city’s ethics code.
The ethics board plans next year to push forward implementation of a 2019 city ordinance (SO2019-5305) requiring nonprofit advocates to apply with the city as lobbyists. The ordinance’s effective date was delayed multiple times amid pushback and confusion from nonprofit groups.
Leaders of the board are also looking to publish a “history of amendments” to the Governmental Ethics Ordinance going back to 1987, budget documents show.
Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events
Leaders of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events are set to detail their plans to bounce back after the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the city’s festival landscape.
Chicago’s 2021 spending plan sliced the cultural affairs department’s budget nearly in half in advance of the second consecutive year that Taste of Chicago and the Chicago Air and Water Show, two of the department’s marquee events, were canceled.
But the department is slated to bounce back next year as its Corporate Fund allocation spikes from about $20.4 million to $29.2 million. The department is also in line for about $42 million in grant funds and 12 additional full-time equivalent employees, boosting its headcount to 78.
Budget officials plan to grow the cultural affairs department’s staff in part by reshuffling its divisions, retiring its “Arts and Creative Industries,” “Visual Arts,” “Event Permits,” “Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships,” “Marketing and Communications” and “Cultural Planning and Operations” teams. In return, the department will launch new divisions called “Programming,” “Special Events,” “Cultural Grants and Resources,” “Marketing and Development” and “Facilities.”
Department leaders hope next year to expand funding to local artists and cultural groups through its Cultural Grants Program, budget documents show. Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on Thursday that the city will multiply its Cultural Grants budget next year from $2.7 million to $20.7 million.
Thursday will be the last ever budget hearing for Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Comm. Mark Kelly, who is retiring on Oct. 29 after five years at the reins of the department.
Civilian Office of Police Accountability
The city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability is also in a period of leadership transition following the departure of Chief Administrator Sydney Roberts earlier this year. Andrea Kerston, who has since led the office as interim chief, is set to answer questions from members of the budget committee on Thursday.
The office, known as COPA, was launched in 2017 as a successor to the Independent Police Review Authority following widespread accusations that the older group was ineffectual at investigating reports of police misconduct.
But city leaders have also been frustrated at the pace of COPA’s investigations — particularly in the case of the botched Chicago Police Department raid on the home of Anjanette Young, whose complaint took more than a year for the oversight office to process and issue a finding.
Roberts and other leaders of the office last year blamed the delays on a crushing backlog of cases, which only picked up amid social unrest in summer 2020. At the time of last year’s November budget hearing, the office was on track to receive more than 5,000 complaints but close fewer than 1,600 of them, officials said at the time.
COPA is poised to see a boost in its annual budget allocation, from about $13.3 million to $14.7 million, as it grows from 140 to 150 full-time equivalent staff positions. A new eight-member “Video Release and Transparency Unit” accounts for most of the growth.
Department of Public Health
Chicago Department of Public Health Comm. Allison Arwady will be next to take the spotlight, a role that has become familiar to her in the 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic first bore down on the city.
The department has been visible to the City Council not only through its regular public briefings on the city’s response to the pandemic, but also because of the $1.7 million “co-responder” pilot health officials have rolled out to send mental health professionals out on some emergency police calls.
Lightfoot’s Chicago Recovery Plan charts out $15 million to build out “911 alternative response” programs — but that boost is hardly expressed in the mayor’s 2022 budget, which only calls to hire one additional staffer — an epidemiologist — to the department’s behavioral health unit.
Despite an approximately $5 million boost in allocations from the city’s Corporate Fund, the health department’s overall budget is actually in line to shrink from about $1.09 billion to $1.05 billion due to a drop-off in outside grant funds. At the same time, the department’s employee headcount is set to tick up, from 833 full-time equivalent positions to 835.
New COVID-19 cases have been on a slow decline in Chicago since late August, when the Delta variant peaked around 510 daily new cases and a 4.6 percent test positivity rate. As of Wednesday, Chicago was averaging 357 new daily cases and a 2.5 percent positivity rate, according to the health department's COVID-19 dashboard.
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