Yesterday, for my Reporting and Writing II class, we took a field trip to Chicago’s City Hall to cover a city council meeting. It was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced in my 19 short years. The Joint Committees on Finance and Economics, Capital and Technology Development discussed an ordinance that would create a new website to manage information on TIFs — tax increment financing — districts to make it easier for developers and residents to oversee construction in neighborhoods.
They spent two hours talking about a website.
In the time it took them to ever so graciously thank the generous aldermen and councilwomen and secretaries and doughnut delivery boys who worked so tirelessly to get this ordinance through (seriously there are less thank yous at the Oscars), I could have made the damn thing myself.
Witness after witness said how difficult it was to find information on TIFs and that the system of finding any information from the city council was flawed.
While sitting there, experiencing what could only be called hell on earth, I came to the realization that I might want to be in politics one day. I know what you’re thinking, “Laura, are you drunk? It’s not even noon.” To which I say “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.”
But seriously, I think the local governments could greatly improve with just a few young faces in the crowd. Because I think we are generally more in touch with what is going on. Now I’m not saying that we should quarantine all the old fogies and take over the world. I’m just saying that a few dedicated youngsters could keep the more experienced government officials on their toes.
Also, generally speaking, the younger crowd is more familiar with technology and could have saved me from an hour and a half of pure torture yesterday by explaining the basic workings of said TIF website. There was a discrepancy about PDFs which led to a particularly amusing discussion on what the hell they are.
But I think the most blaring example of why these council members are out of touch is just the fact that they had a committee meeting on the creation of a website. Now the underlying issues were how many people would it take to make the website, how much money would it cost to maintain it, who would be in charge of making it? But these are all unimportant when compared to why we should make the site. So that Joe the Plumber (sorry, I miss hearing about him) could go on the site and figure out who in his neighborhood is getting a tax break and who isn’t. It’s a right of every citizen and it’s a right they shouldn’t have to jump through hoops for.
And it’s a freaking website! The co-founder of Everyblock.com (a great site if you haven’t already checked it out) gave testimony about why a site like this is crucial to the city and even suggested that it could be updated and maintained like Everyblock. He then explained to the councilpersons, in very simple and understandable terms, how the site gets updated and that once built, it’s really quite simple to maintain. For those interested, they have a great relationship with the Police Dept. and work as a content aggregator, collecting and analyzing the data through a computer. A live person rarely touches the data before it goes on the site.
Hire a web developer to build the site, a designer to do the general layout and a secretary to input all the data you have. Three jobs, two of which are for a short span of time. Heck, why not hire the designer to redo all the other city council websites so that the important info on the side of the page looks like important info and not advertisements. Just a thought.
In all honesty, I think it would be great if more young people were involved in their local government and knew what was going on in their community. After all, Millennials outnumber Baby Boomers by 17 million people. It’s important to know what mess is being left for us. And what messes we’re creating for ourselves.