Ravenswood Community Council management under scrutiny— again

Management of the Ravenswood Community Council is under scrutiny again. An award winning series by The Bulldog in January and February noted that the charity, which runs Special Service Area 31, almost failed financially in the period 2005-7.

The series went on to criticize the SSA for failing to provide basic snow clearance following the heavy snow fall. It contrasted the failure in the SSA with successful clearance efforts in other areas that did not have SSA funding available.

SSA stands for Special Service Area. Created by the city, SSAs collect a property tax levy to fund “enhanced” services such as cleaning snow and trash from sidewalks. The RCC manages SSA 31 for the city.

As the manager of the SSA the RCC receives a management fee from the city. In addition it manages the services provided in the area, principally snow removal and street cleaning, but also promotion.

Although the SSA eventually cleared the sidewalks, it was a failure of the city’s Streets and Sanitation Department to clear the streets of snow on Ravenswood, while streets were cleared on industrial streets such as Rockwell and Bradley, that led to issues, according to the story, in ordinary commercial work and the efforts of charities such as the Night Ministry to maintain services.

The series is credited with being a key element in the election loss of Ravenswood Community Council President Tom O’Donnell in the aldermanic election.

A recent spat between a blog and the council has raised the issue again.

CSJ Report has errors

The post, found here at CenterSquareJournal, says the RCC is a tool of Schulter. “Current board members with political ties to Schulter include (Tom) O’Donnell, the former president of the 47th Ward Democratic Party, (Bill) Helm, the current president of the 47th Ward Democratic Party and Marty Casey, who was 47th Ward Streets and Sanitation Superintendent under Schulter.”

The inside scoop

The news that the RCC is a political tool of Schulter is not news. Sadly missing from the list of members with political ties to Eugene Schulter is Rosemary Schulter, listed by the RCC on its website as a director. Rosemary Schulter is married to Eugene Schulter.

The CSJ report goes on to confuse SSA revenue, describing $368,000 received as applied to “administering the Special Service Area #31 contract.”

The inside scoop

As noted by RCC Executive Director Chris Shickles in a reply, “RCC will receive about $50,000 in service provider compensation for managing the SSA which is in line with other similar sized SSAs throughout the city.”

The remainder of the funds are directed to efforts such as signage (the hanging banners you see on light poles), snow clearance, litter removal and landscaping. Much of that work is done by independent contractors.

The post says the RCC experiences high administrative costs.

 The inside scoop

As The Bulldog noted months ago, administrative costs at the RCC have historically ranged up to 143.14 percent of revenue in 2007. The Bulldog also pointed to HRAIL as a program with glaring inefficiency. During a four year period the RCC administered HRAIL program repaired ten homes each year for $241,538, excluding the administrative costs.

    • HRAIL is a program of small home repairs intended to maintain senior citizens in the community.
    • HRAIL has been superceeded by the SARFS program: Small Accessible Repairs for Seniors.

And The Bulldog noted that much of the revenue received was spent on independent contractors and employees, not community efforts.

Despite the financial meltdown the RCC avoided, it continued on with O’Donnell at its head. On the one hand, the RCC headed into a serious financial meltdown under O’Donnell’s leadership. It was also a hands-off leadership, The Bulldog found. O’Donnell was only present at one SSA meeting over a two year period.

Since that initial examination of the SSA minutes, O’Donnell has continued to be absent from each SSA meeting.

The issue is not just that RCC has high administrative costs, but whether the city should even fund these entities. For one thing, RCC is not the only political creature in city that receives money. As Tom Tresser, a former candidate for Cook County Board President, noted if there is a need for these services there is nothing to prevent neighborhood businesses from getting together to provide them.

The services provide a means of cloaking city services. Few property owners and fewer voters understand whether they are covered by an SSA and how to influence them. There must be a more efficient means of administering SSA services than through chambers of commerce.

Plus, the creation of a relationship between the chamber and the city creates a dependency relationship that stifles political dissent.

In essence, the chambers become tools of the city, they lack transparency and accountability to the public.

Finally, the post says there was testimony that the RCC was “politically motivated.” And the post says a hire has “alleged connections to organized crime.”

The inside scoop

The assassination of people based on association is broad. Sheila Pacione, a new employee of RCC, is correctly noted by the blog to be a former staffer of Shulter for example.

Dan Stefanski, another employee, is painted by the blog as a childhood friend of “convicted” former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Stefanski parlayed that childhood friendship into a position in the Blagojevich administration.

And the post says he was fired from the Illinois Department of Transportation for drunk driving. AND Stefanski has a past as a bookie, the report says.

According to a 2005 Chicago Sun-Times article cited online by other web sites but no longer available, an International Brotherhood of Teamsters team of investigators named Stefanski is a friend of reputed mobsters Robert Abbinanti and Nick “The Stick” LoCoco. Stefanski, according to the report, issued a statement offering a $20,000 reward for the address of a mob informant.

Stefanski does not deny keeping company with alleged mobsters, according to the report.

In the spirit of full transparency, The Bulldog itself has ties to RCC. The Bulldog sponsored an event with RCC in September, “The Bells of Ravenswood.”

As noted last month, Michael Fourcher, the publisher of the CenterSquareJournal, is a prolific entrepreneur. According to the CSJ post, Fourcher was a contributor to the post.

Fourcher was associated with the politically connected Haymarket Group, Podesta Associates, former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson and ran a political consulting firm as recently as last year, overlapping with his creation of the CenterSquareJournal blog. Fourcher’s political interest in ward politics remains unknown.

It is a “politically motivated” piece according to a reply to the article by Democratic ward boss Eugene Schulter.

According to social media, Schulter is running again for the 47th Ward Democratic committeeman position. Schulter has not formally announced his run.

*** UPDATE Nov. 13, 2011 @ 10.30A We added two paragraphs to explain the roll of SSAs and how they receive their funding. Go to the new text ***

*** UPDATE Nov. 13, 2011 @ 11.05A We moved two paragraphs to the end of the post to provide better flow to the story. And we added an explanation of what the HRAIL program is. ***

Redistricting should be transparent and honor recognized communities of interest

A Bulldog Editorial

Two weeks and a holiday exist between now and the end of the regular session of the Illinois General Assembly. The Statehouse is abuzz as it passes a controversial education reform bill and grapples with the legacy of financial mismanagement from two convicted former governors. But the elephant in the room is redistricting. And so far it is going unnoted. Using redistricting the politicians will be selecting the voters they want to vote for them. Oh! You thought you selected the politicians to represent you? That is a nice thought and worthy of a third grade essay. No. As the Bulldog has been discussing, the process for determining how our neighborhood will be represented is well underway. It is being purposely hidden from your view. And, it will all be over in two weeks. During May a redistricting plan only requires 60 votes in the House and 30 votes in the Senate to pass. In June, the same plan will need a 3/5ths majority of each chamber for passage. In other words, if the plan, which is not yet public, is not passed in the next two weeks, it will require Republican votes for passage. To suggest there isn’t a map shows arrogance and conceit. Yet, that is the claim of certain insiders and the Democratic Party leadership. Activists have been demanding for months the legislature reveal maps that insiders now say they have seen. The activists are demanding at least a week to respond to the proposed boundary lines. So far that call has gone unanswered. The insiders laugh at the naivety of activists and the press and our readers and thousands of other citizens in this state. We demand transparency. Who the hell do we think we are? THE STORY SO FAR As The Bulldog noted, a coalition of Asian, Hispanic and African American groups called the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations have developed a comprehensive map that would increase representation of Hispanics and potentially of Asians without costing the African American community any representation. In Ravenswood the maps offer two versions. In each map plan Deb Mell will be forced to run in a district that is new to her. That is of concern to the LGBT community. Only three members of the General Assembly are openly gay. Mell is one of those reps. The LGBT community is not a protected minority. As Jacob Meister notes in an editorial in NowInGayChicago.com “the Census Bureau did not bother to collect data on LGBT individuals and families.” And, as The Bulldog has noted, gay activists believe that although certain retail areas, particularly in Uptown and in Boys Town, are associated with the gay community, gays are spread throughout the community and drawing a line to describe an area as being gay is not going to happen.

OUR GUIDING PRINCIPAL: OUR MISSION STATEMENT

That said, we also look at our Mission Statement. We interpret those words to mean we should give voice to persons without voice. We believe that the LGBT community, although it has not received legal status as a protected minority, deserves protection by persons of good will. Therefore, The Bulldog supports map proposals that offer minorities and the LGBT community districts in which the minorities can run candidates with a good chance of winning. But that doesn’t guarantee a win. And, we find gerrymandering the map to get rid of an opponent offensive. We believe that has happened to Mell with the proposals by the United Congress. So, although we support the goals of the United Congress, and in general support the proposed map of the UC, we urge change.

WHAT THE BULLDOG HOLDS IS NECESSARY IN RAVENSWOOD

The Bulldog is calling on the Statehouse to move the line for the 40th legislative district proposed by the United Congress in such a way that Mell’s home continues to be within the 40th district boundaries. We urge persons to oppose Mell in an open and fair primary and election if they don’t like her politics. And, we note that we have taken Mell to task in the past for working to keep opponents off the ballot using election law. We pledge to watch Mell carefully, but also watch her opponents. Everyone should play nice. End the Gerrymandering.

  1. The Democratic map should be revealed NOW. We do not buy that the map doesn’t exist. Government should be about transparency, not secrecy.
  2. A Hispanic majority district in the area of Albany Park/ Avondale and Irving Park should be established as outlined by the United Congress.
    1. That district should NOT carve out the home of Rep. Deborah Mell.
  3. If a house and/or senate district with Asian influence can be created, as outlined by the United Congress, it should be created.
  4. We believe there are several strong reasons to tie the following neighborhoods together in the same district due to existance of several separate groups that coexist:
    1. Ravenswood Manor
    2. Ravenswood Gardens
    3. Greater Rockwell
    4. Lincoln Square
    5. The portion of Ravenswood between the Chicago River, Foster, Lawrence and Lincoln Ave.
  5. We believe the tandem of a corridor along Lincoln Ave and the Brown Line should form the backbone of a district of common interest.
  6. We believe the eight  retail/residential areas below should each be kept in a single house and single senate district
    1. St. Ben’s
    2. Roscoe Village
    3. Bowmanville
    4. Budlong Woods
    5. The six corners of Lincoln/Belmont/Ashland
    6. The six corners of Lincoln/Damen/Irving Park
    7. Wrigleyville
    8. Southport Corridor
  7. We believe that the natural boundaries created by the Chicago River, industrial areas and cemeteries should be used to draw lines and that any legislative district representing this area not include any part of the suburbs.
  8. The entirety of the campus, offices, parking facilities and future development of Swedish Covenant Hospital should be intact within a single district.

The Bulldog editorializes that legislative districts be drawn to create majority Hispanic districts, an Asian influence district and protect the boundaries of nine communities of interest.

COMMUNITIES OF INTEREST AND OUR EXPERTISE

The Bulldog is a for-profit enterprise. It is also a hyper-local news effort that had to define what were its communities of interest. The concept of communities of interest should be taken into consideration by the legislature. It is a concept that received a lot of attention during the legislative hearings that have led us up to this moment. Ravenswood is represented by two State Senators holding powerful leadership positions: Senate President John Cullerton and Sen. Heather Steans. We believe that the leadership will act to protect the districts of these two leaders despite any protest made by anyone. That said, The Bulldog claims expertise in defining what the communities of interest in Ravenswood are. We believe that the purpose of the Democratic Party to protect Cullerton and Steans can be met and the needs of the community protected too. We are using our editorial voice, an expression of the community of writers and photographers, because someone must stand and state these principles to the legislature before it is to late. We urge Cullerton and Steans to consider that our community will be better represented if certain the following are considered prior to finalizing the map.

  1. A Hispanic majority district in the area of Albany Park/ Avondale and Irving Park should be established as outlined by the United Congress.
    1. That district should NOT carve out the home of Rep. Deborah Mell.
  2. If a house district with Asian influence can be created, as outlined by the United Congress, it should be created.
  3. In general there are a number of significant boundaries present in the area that prevent easy community building. They provide opportunities to create boundaries.
    1. Rosehill Cemetery.
    2. Graceland Cemetery.
    3. St. Boniface Cemetery.
    4. The small cemeteries north of Wrigley Field.
    5. The Metra/ UP North Line is also an appropriate boundary, except as noted.
    6. The combination of the Addison Industrial Corridor, Lane Tech High School and the former property of Riverview.
  4. The Chicago River should form a boundary.
  5. The map should recognize that there are communities of interest in Ravenswood that are centered on retail districts and transportation nodes. When possible, the retail districts and the transportation nodes should be intact within a district.
    1. One of the most important distinctions for Ravenswood residents is the proximity to the Brown Line. This transportation feature is common to several neighborhoods. It ties together Ravenswood Manor and SouthEast Ravenswood and gives reason for the strange “L” shape of Ravenswood.
    2. A second key feature in this neighborhood is the Metra Line.
    3. A third key to the area is Lincoln Ave. It appears that the district drawn in 2000 which is now represented by Cullerton centered on Lincoln Ave. That district is relatively cohesive and shares many interests.
    4. In the case of both senate districts, we believe that they should remain entirely within the boundaries of the City of Chicago.
  6. The Ravenswood neighborhood is, in general, a neighborhood that has a small number of protected minorities. However, that does not mean it doesn’t have distinct ethnic differences.
    1. A German community of interest, the rump of what was once a much larger German community, still exists, centered on Lincoln Ave., and in particularly we find anecdotal evidence this community continues to exist near Lincoln Square.
    2. A Greek community of interest exists. As is the case with the German population, this is an ethnic group that is losing its population as new generations move out and new groups move in. We find anecdotal evidence this group continues to exist along Lawrence Ave from the area near California Ave to Western Ave. This area includes the church of St. Demetrios.
    3. Former Yugoslavia community. We find anecdotal evidence, based primarily on the existance of bars serving the community, that this recent group exists in the area of Lincoln Square.
  7. Key retail areas should not be divided into separate legislative districts. We point to Chinatown as an example of how poorly served a business district can be if it has more than one legislator. We point, in our own area, to Andersonville, which is divided among several wards, as an example of terrible planning during redistricting.
    1. The Lincoln Square retail area is a two block radius area centered at Lawrence, Lincoln and Western.
    2. Bowmanville, which has no significant retail area, nevertheless should be kept together.
    3. Budlong Woods is a distinct area and should be kept together. In the not to distant past, this neighborhood would have formed a boundary due to its being a farm. Current maps call for this area to be included in the proposed Asian influence district.
    4. Andersonville should not be divided again. It is generally defined by Clark Street from near the corner of Ridge to south of Foster.
    5. Ravenswood Manor has more in common with the Ravenswood Garden community across the Chicago River than many other contiguous communities. They should be in the same district. In some areas these two communities are considered to overlap Greater Rockwell which itself overlaps Lincoln Square. It shouldn’t be an issue to keep these small neighborhoods together.
    6. St. Ben’s is a distinct area and should remain together. We define it as the area within two blocks of the church/ school complex at Leavitt and Irving Park Rd.
    7. Roscoe Village is a distinct area and should not be divided. We define it as an area within two blocks of Roscoe running from Western Ave to the Metra railroad.
    8. In addition, we see retail areas forming communities of interest around Wrigley Field, Lincoln/ Irving and Damen and Belmont/ Lincoln and Ashland. The city has definitions of the two retail areas that the six corners define. Wrigley, in our opinion, is the area that receives a significant economic impact due to the proximity of the ballfield, or about two blocks from the intersection of Clark and Addison.
    9. In general, public elementary school attendance boundaries should be kept intact.
    10. In general, larger communities, such as Ravenswood, Uptown, Lake View and Rogers Park should be kept in one legislative district.
  8. Now, joining the chorus, The Bulldog has shown its map. We want the leadership to show its map.

WHAT IS THE LAW? The basic requirements for a legislative district, according to the Federal government are:

  • Federal Voting Rights Act. Provides protected minorities that could create districts of 50 percent or greater population proportion with protection from practices of cracking and packing to dilute their strength.
    • States and municipalities cannot do “too much” to compensate for race. However, they may not use redistricting to dillute the voting strength of minority populations. The fine line between whether a plan leans on dilluting minorities or makes the election accessible often sends plans to court for adjudication.
  • Gingles Factor. A court test based on the Federal VRA provides that to prove a section 2 VRA violation
    • The minority group is sufficiently large and geographically concentrated to make up a majority district
    • That the minority group is politically cohesive
    • That the white majority votes together to defeat the minority candidate
  • One person, one vote
    • Baker v Carr, 1962 court decision held that districts have to have roughly equal population

In addition, Illinois has a Voting Rights Act. That law mandates the following:

An alternative majority Hispanic district proposed by the Illinois Hispanic Agenda also excludes Rep. Deb Mell’s home. Credit: Illinois Hispanic Agenda
  • Contiguity.

Districts cannot include “islands” that are not geographically connected in some manner to the district (for example on real islands, there needs to be a transportation link such as a bridge or a ferry to the rest of the district).

  • Compactness.

The boundaries of the district can be measured by a number of measures. Let’s summarize this limitation as calling for the districts to be able to withstand tests that their boundaries are logical.

  • Nesting.

Illinois uses a system in which two Illinois House Districts are associated with each Illinois Senate District.

  • The state law created three categories of districts for the legislature to consider:
    • Crossover districts- Districts where a minority is large enough to elect the candidate of its choice provided the candidate receives support from voters outside the minority.
    • Coalition districts- Districts in which more than one minority can form a coalition to elect a candidate of their choice.
    • Influence districts- A district where a minority can influence the election even if its preferred candidate cannot be elected.
  • Encourages ‘communities’ of common concern
    • May be ethnic, religious, based on transportation, sexual, etc.
    • Legislature will act not to break up (crack) such communities

In addition, let’s layout a few other specifics.

  • Majority Hispanic districts are generally higher in the proportion of Hispanics than majority white or black districts due to a skew in the average age of the population: more of the population is too young to vote and there appears to be lower participation in the election process among Hispanics. 65 percent is considered necessary to create a majority Hispanic district.
  • While there is some information available about single-sex households, in general information about LGBT communities is not based on census data.
  • In Illinois the location of incumbents homes are taken into consideration. This is not true for all redistricting efforts. Iowa, for example, uses a computer that does not consider incumbent addresses in its plan.
  • Illinois has a history of using redistricting to punish potential opponents of incumbents. Famously, in the redistricting of the South Side following the 2000 census, a young Illinois Senator, Barack Obama, was redistricted out of Congressman Bobby Rush’s district.
  • Illinois also factors in political loyalty of a district. Specifically, Illinois legislators look at voting along party lines in previous presidential, US Senate and state executive offices.
  • The final consideration  is that the legislature is asked to take communities of interest into consideration. A community of interest can be any self-defined group. For example:
    • Ethnic groups
    • Religious groups
    • Groups based on employment (e.g., farming, auto parts, colleges, etc)
    • Communities of LGBT and similar sexual orientation and identity
    • A town or neighborhood
    • Communities that are defined by infrastructure (such as use of the Brown Line)
  • Gerrymandering is the act of remapping to give an unfair advantage to one political group. The Federal Voting Rights Act protects minorities against racial Gerrymandering.
  • Cracking. Diluting a group. A violation of the VRA for protected minorities if it harms the ability of minorities to elect representation
  • Packing. Concentrating a group. A violation of the VRA for protected minorities if it harms the ability of minorities to elect representation

SIGNIFICANT DATES IN THE PROCESS:

  • Tues., May 31 Last day to pass reapportionment by 50% +1 of membership
  • Fri., June 3 Gov. Pat Quinn must receive reapportionment legislation
  • Thurs., June 30 Last day to pass reapportionment by 3/5ths of membership vote
  • Wed., Aug. 10 Last day for eight member commission to submit a reapportionment plan
  • Wed., Oct 5 Deadline for nine member commission to submit a reapportionment plan
  • Early November Candidates begin passing petitions for office under the reapportionment