Editor’s note: An important update to this story is available on The Bulldog. Comments are generally closed two weeks after a story is published.
The Bulldog sat down earlier this week to talk to Ameya Pawar. Mr. Pawar recently announced he plans to run against 47th Ward Alderman Eugene Schulter in the 2011 city elections.
We wrote Alderman Schulter by e-mail and talked to his staff requesting he respond to recent news, including the report by the Lake Effect News that his daughter, Monica, earned $103,199 in 2008 through three city accounts. Alderman Schulter arranged to talk to us on Monday, but then postponed the talk to Tuesday. We still haven’t heard from him.
The story by Lake Effect News can be found at their web site. We led off our conversation with challenger Pawar asking about the news report. This is a complete transcript of the conversation. Where we substituted words for clarity we put those words in parenthesis.
Q: The Lake Effect News wrote this week that the office of the Vice Mayor, which is held by 50th Ward Alderman Bernard Stone, a $100,000 budget, is being used to pay for the salaries of a number of families of aldermen, including Alderman Schulter. Alderman Eugene Schulter’s daughter is on the list of people receiving compensation through that budget. Her total compensation, through three different budgets of City Council, closes in on what Alderman Schulter makes.
Monica A. Schulter, the daughter of Alderman Eugene Schulter was paid $31,216 out of the vice mayor’s budget in bi-monthly payments between July 1, 2008 and December 1, 2008. According to city records, Monica Schulter is paid $40,368 per year out of the aldermanic staff account as a “staff assistant to the alderman” (Better Government Association payroll database). In addition, Monica Schulter was paid $31,614 out of Schulter’s aldermanic expense account in 2008, according to city records obtained by the Chicago Tribune. Considering funds from all known sources, Monica Schulter earned $103,199 in 2008, nearly as much as her duly elected alderman father ($104,100 in 2008). Schulter did not return calls for comment.”
— Lake Effect News published March 26, 2010
These are each in different line items, so there is no confusion that there is double counting.
A: I think it’s interesting when we’re using three different funds to pay employees. Now it just so happens that she (is) the daughter of the alderman. But I think this information… (it is important) for the public to understand where these dollars are coming from and who is being paid.
That’s the real issue.
I know the City Council banned relatives from the stealth payroll, but there’s still a whole chunk of other money there. I think if I were alderman I’d have to make a good justification of why a staff member was being paid out of three different funds.
It’s also about transparency. She might be a valuable staff member. But we need to know why: what qualifications and what purpose she serves.
Q: What about the appearance of nepotism during a period when other people are suffering? The alderman’s family appears to be pulling in quite a bit of money from the public. One of the reports even noted he was paying for his car lease through his expense reports.
A: The way I’d like to look at it is, if I were alderman, here’s what I would do, I’m not going to hire family, I’m not going to lease a car… (I’m going) to make sure everyone knows what’s going on. And let the constituents know those expenditures are fair. The way the budget and the economy is, we have to reduce expenses.
Written follow-up statement:
A recent article in Lake Effect News details how aldermen accessed the Vice Mayor’s budget to pay staffers. I do not believe we can have a productive conversation by attacking the aldermen who accessed this account. Instead, I believe we must stop this practice and replace it with a transparent process which will provide the public with a complete accounting of the Vice Mayor’s budget since 1989 and produce a plan to shed light on all aldermanic expenditures. There’s already a budget process in place for paying aldermanic staff, if there’s a need to increase pay to aldermanic staff, then that is a discussion that should be had in the City Council under the full light of public scrutiny.
The way aldermen spend money should be transparent.
Here is my proposal –
- The $100,000 allocation to the Vice Mayor’s office should be eliminated. An emergency line-item should be setup in the event the Vice Mayor is required to serve as Interim Mayor.
- All funds spent from Vice Mayor’s account from 1989-2010 will be available for public view.
- We must identify similar accounts in Chicago budget. If elected, my staff and I will conduct a study of all budget line items. Furthermore, the City Council must work with OMB and Mayor’s Office to put restrictions on budget overruns. The Vice Mayor’s account was routinely over budget by over 200%. Unless there are extraordinary circumstances which are made clear to the public, these cost overruns must end now.
- I will hire three (3) staffers. These staffers will only be paid from the Aldermanic Staff account.
- No staffers will be hired and charged to Aldermanic Expense Account.
- My office will be responsible and responsive to the Ward. That being said, reducing aldermanic expenses are a priority.
- Here is my plan to reduce expenses –
- Will not use funds to pay staff :
- Savings – $30,000.00
- Will not use funds to lease car:
- Savings – $7,000.00
- Will not lease downtown parking spot:
- Savings – $500.00
All aldermanic expenses, staff salaries and staff job descriptions will be posted on the 47th Ward website.
All aldermanic staff positions will be available to the general public.
Q: About Arne Duncan’s clout in schools list. This was published in the Chicago Tribune. It noted that when Arne Duncan, now the US Secretary of Education, was the chief of the Chicago Public Schools he kept a list of requests for applicants to schools. His office would follow-up on it. Secretary Duncan said he did this to relieve pressure on principals from fielding these calls.
There are cases of ordinary citizens, also business people and politicians calling and inquiring about people. An alderman noted: “people call us and ask for help and this is what we do.”
What’s your reaction?
A: I heard that Mayor Daley wants to put in a new process that makes it available to everyone. I think that’s… If we’re going to have an appeal system, if someone’s child or relative is unable to get into the school of their first choice: that there is a process for them to appeal that decision. And, ultimately what matters is that people feel they have access to the system, that the system isn’t just available for the well-connected.
So, long as anyone who feels they should appeal can apply, I’m okay with that.
Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like this clout list was secret but that people didn’t realize they could access (it). I think that was the fundamental problem there.
Q: So, that people weren’t aware they could access an appeal is the fundamental problem?
A: I saw on Chicago Tonight that roughly 35 – 40 percent of the people who were on this list got into the school. What I want to know is how the system is designed. What are the factors used to make an appeal. Is it just because you know someone or are there other extenuating factors that contribute to an appeal.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to comment on?
A: (Illinois) HB 6000 is an interesting issue (that) came out of committee. It was introduced by Representative Joseph Lyons (and it) would impact the 2011 election. The petition drive… The spirit of the law: it increases the minimum signatures to 500, so it’s no longer the two percent of voter turnout. It doubles what is required in Ward 47. Also that if a resident signs my petition and Alderman Schulter’s, that signature is thrown out.
The difficulty is that you’re not asking for someone’s vote that day.
Q: I understand that the Board of Elections is applying this rule that if you sign one petition that you cannot sign another petition or both signatures are thrown out. It’s not Illinois law, but the interpretation of the Board of Elections that handles the petition campaigns. Is that correct?
Q: So, people get very aggressive and gin-up the numbers on the petitions, which makes it difficult for people who enter later or who don’t have the street organization to compete.
Exactly. It is going to become difficult when an incumbent can soak up all the signatures. Without resources to have a more robust street operation it’s going to be difficult. My objection is what is this bill trying to accomplish?
We submitted an op-ed to the Chicago Sun-Times about this:
At the heart of any election is the notion that the people, presented with a number of candidates, will choose the one that best represents their interests. It is in recognition of this fact that I recently began my campaign to be alderman in the 47th Ward and committed myself to focusing on the issues and bringing more voices to the table. If adopted, a bill recently passed through the Rules Committee of the Illinois House of Representatives would restrict the ability of challengers, like myself, to campaign for the changes they believe are necessary to improve our city.
The bill represents a serious threat to the future of free elections statewide. In Chicago, this bill would (1) increase the minimum number of signatures needed to get on the ballot to 500 (in many wards this represents a three- to four-fold increase); (2) ban you — the voting public — from signing more than one candidate’s petition. Since you will be allowed to sign only one candidate’s petition, essentially, voters will have to choose their candidate before the election even takes place.
I am calling on all Chicago aldermen, the mayor, Illinois legislators, and the governor, who I know value free elections, to publicly debate the merits of this bill.
We want a public debate. We want to understand what this bill is trying to do. What are the merits?
Q: The petition drive for aldermen starts in September?
Yes, it is six months out from the election.
Q: Thank you Mr. Pawar.
A: Thank you.