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Mayor Says Aldermen Should Decide Which Streets To Repair Despite Criticism

 Aldermen — not City Hall staffers — should decide which roads and sidewalks should get fixed, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday.
Aldermen — not City Hall staffers — should decide which roads and sidewalks should get fixed, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

THE LOOP — Mayor Rahm Emanuel Friday went to bat for one of the most beloved perks of Chicago aldermen, saying City Hall should not decide which roads and sidewalks should get fixed.

On Thursday, City Inspector General Joseph Ferguson released an audit that found the current system unequally funds wards. He suggested the decision-making authority should be taken from aldermen and given to engineers at the Chicago Department of Transportation.

However, Emanuel said that proposal would have unintended consequences in the real world — but acknowledged that it made sense from the perspective from someone focused on ensuring good government.

"If you sit around and walk around with a glass of white wine, you can say, ‘This is what the perfect world is,’" Emanuel said at an unrelated event kicking off renovations at the Quincy 'L' stop. "The worst thing you could do is cut off residents and have that be driven by downtown."

Known as "menu money" for the list of permanent improvement projects that aldermen get to choose from, the project allows aldermen a pot of money to spend as they see fit — and curry favor with voters.

"The Menu Program as it exists masks systemic inequity and underfunding of core infrastructure — streets, alleys, and lights — and places the responsibility for managing infrastructure not with the technical experts but with legislators,” according to Ferguson's audit.

Ferguson found the city should have spent $228.8 million more in 2015 than it did to keep the city's residential infrastructure in good condition. In addition, the city's decision to fund road repairs at the discretion of aldermen makes it impossible for city officials to develop "a comprehensive long-term strategy to address residential infrastructure needs" and figure out a way to meet the need, according to the audit.

The best-funded ward got $9.3 million more than the worst funded ward, Ferguson said.

Because each ward gets the same amount, larger wards "receive a substantially lower percentage of menu funding required to maintain that infrastructure."

However, the mayor said he was open to changes in the the $84 million-a-year program — as long as they were from the "ground up."

Ferguson's audit prompted 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale, the chairman of the council's transportation committee to reintroduce a measure that would base the amount of money given to each alderman on the length of the roads and alleys in each ward.

Emanuel declined Friday to comment on that proposal.

Ferguson will meet in the coming weeks with Emanuel about another term in office.