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Mayor Emanuel Defers Vote On Infrastructure Plan

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UPDATED 04/18/12 1:39 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel has decided to put off consideration of his $1.7 billion project to rebuild the city’s infrastructure, amid questions about oversight of the program.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports the plan was deferred at the City Council meeting Wednesday by two Emanuel allies – City Council floor leader Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th) and Ald. Edward Burke (14th), so that the questions that have been mounting about the program can be answered.

But Emanuel plans to call a special City Council meeting next week, where he plans to call for a vote on the plan.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

Emanuel says he does not plan to change the ordinance before it comes to a vote, but will simply make some alterations by executive order.

“One will be that each project will have a mission statement with financial advisers – what it’s supposed to do, how much it will save, how many jobs it will produce. So each project will have that,” the mayor said.

Community and labor groups have been aldermen to reject the mayor’s “Chicago Infrastructure Trust” plan.

The plan would have five major banks lead an effort to invest $1.7 billion in private financing to upgrade city infrastructure.

A board of five people appointed by the mayor would be empowered to decide how the majority of the money is spent. The City Council would only have oversight when city assets, properties or money are involved. Projects involving public schools, parks, or public transit would be exempt from City Council approval.

The City Council Finance Committee approved the plan Monday. But some aldermen voted against it and raised questions about oversight, in light of announcements by Emanuel in recent months that he wants to build dozens of new parks and playgrounds, renovate 100 CTA stations, and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on public school buildings — all likely through the infrastructure trust, and all without aldermen having a say as the plan stands now.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said at the Monday hearing, “Do you want to take it just because you have your votes and … run it down our throats?”

Emanuel’s chief financial officer, Lois Scott, said “To be blunt, here in Chicago, we cannot afford to wait. Mayor Emanuel has been very clear, on behalf of Chicagoans, he will not wait. Our crumbling infrastructure needs are too great.”

The aldermen who voted against the plan cited a lack of faith in how the infrastructure trust would be managed, in the wake of the parking meter lease deal that blew up in their faces.

The lease of the parking meters to a private company has been criticized from the very beginning, after many parking meters malfunctioned after they were privatized, and then motorists were hit with steep parking rate hikes in every year since the deal went into place in 2009.

The committee’s vote to approve the mayor’s plan came hours after a coalition of community groups, union members and others gathered at City Hall to urge the committee to reject the plan, chanting “Chicago’s not for sale.”

They said the proposal would give the mayor too much power in deciding which construction projects get funded, without sufficient oversight from the City Council.

But while Mayor Emanuel had been insisting upon quick action for the plan, he apparently decided to wait after a group of about six aldermen met with his administration Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, demanding time to have their questions answered.

The Better Government Association had also been urging the Emanuel administration to wait on calling the plan for a vote.

“The argument isn’t that this is a bad plan necessarily, but because this is so new and so different, and raises accountability, transparency and oversight issues, there is no need to approve it today,” BGA executive director Andy Shaw told WBBM Newsradio’s Sherman Kaplan and Kris Kridel Wednesday.

He said quick action should not be the priority for the plan.

“You have to commend a mayor who wants to move quickly, but when you’re talking about our tax dollars, too quickly is not good,” Shaw said.

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