Inspector General Says Aldermen’s Menu Program Shortchanges City

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson criticized the City Council’s cherished “aldermanic menu” program for failing to meet the infrastructure needs of each ward, and he suggested taking the final say for such projects away from aldermen.

In an audit of the menu program, Ferguson said giving each ward an equal amount of money for improvements to streets, alleys, and lighting shortchanges the whole city by about $123 million.

He also said it’s not fair to some wards; those with dense populations and few streets get the same amount of money as geographically large wards with lots of streets.

“On the one hand, a ward on the Near North Side has 85 percent of its funding for infrastructure met by the menu program, while on the South Side – the 34th Ward, I believe – only 15 percent of needs are met by the menu program,” he said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) has been complaining about inequity for years, but he believes the menu program and aldermanic choice need to stay.

The audit also criticized the menu program for allowing aldermen to use infrastructure funds for projects such as decorative garbage cans, flower baskets, and artwork.

“Regardless of whether such projects are a worthwhile use of public funds, diverting Menu funds from projects such as street resurfacing, alleys, sidewalks, and lighting undermines CDOT’s ability to keep the public way in a state of good repair,” Ferguson’s office said in a statement.

Ferguson said the Chicago Department of Transportation should have an overall plan to address the city’s infrastructure needs; with aldermen having input on projects in their wards, but CDOT having the final say.

The full audit and CDOT’s response can be found here.

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