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Chicago Infrastructure Trust: Vote On Rahm Emanuel's Plan Delayed Amid Ramped Up Scrutiny (VIDEO)

Posted: 04/19/2012 10:35 am Updated: 04/19/2012 4:33 pm

A City Council vote on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's much-publicized Chicago Infrastructure Trust was, in what was somewhat of a surprise twist, deferred Wednesday by two staunch mayoral allies before critics of the ordinance were able to delay it themselves.

The controversial ordinance, which was approved by the council's Finance Committee by a vote of 11-7 earlier in the week, will next be considered in a special Tuesday meeting of the council.

The Chicago Infrastructure Trust ordinance was deferred, quietly, by Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, and Ald. Patrick O'Connor Wednesday when it became clear that critics of the proposal were prepared to use a parliamentary procedure to delay a vote on the matter, the Chicago Tribune reports.

One of those critics is Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, who told Progress Illinois that Burke and O'Connor's move to defer the vote marked a temporary victory for those opposed to the ordinance. Waguespack and others still have concerns about the degree of oversight the infrastructure plan will have.

"We just have a lot of concerns that may or may not be answered by the next meeting," Waguespack told Progress Illinois. "Frankly, I don't think that they can be answered in time."

Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, also wishes the council had more time to consider the plan. She wrote in a open letter, published Tuesday by NBC Chicago, that the mayor was attempting to push the ordinance to passage using the same "closed, rushed, 'ram it down their throats' process" that gave Chicago such unpopular deals as the privatization of the city's parking meters.

"I see too little transparency, accountability, oversight or evidence to justify a leap of faith into what could prove another bottomless pit of financial risk for Chicago taxpayers," Hairston wrote of the plan.

Late last month, Emanuel introduced his $7 billion "new Chicago" infrastructure plan, which aims to rebuild, repair or expand the city's parks, streets, railways, O'Hare airport, public schools, water systems and other parts of what the mayor calls "Chicago's core." The plan is expected to create roughly 30,000 jobs in Chicago over the next three years, the mayor announced, while noting that many of the projects have already been paid for "through reforms, efficiencies, cuts in central offices [and] direct user fees."

Through the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, the cash-strapped city will turn to private investment companies to help fit the massive bill for additional improvements, which the mayor says the city would not be able to afford without raising city taxes.

The plan also calls for the trust to be run by a board that consists entirely of private financiers, save of one Chicago alderman. While the Infrastructure Trust ordinance says it will operate in a way that respects open meeting laws and Freedom of Information Act directives, critics say the plan means that the city will oversee its adherence to such matters itself.

Amisha Patel, Grassroots Collaborative executive director and HuffPost Chicago blogger, is a vocal community activist who urged that Chicago alderman vote against the mayor's plan.

"If you don't, you won’t get another chance because the governing board of each project will sign off on the projects -- not the City Council. Checks and balances? It sounds like the mayor is checking and balancing himself," Patel said, as reported by the Sun-Times, Monday.

Before the trust ordinance is considered again, critics hope it will contain new measures for oversight and transparency that have some teeth.

Speaking on the Trust Tuesday, the Tribune reports the mayor said, "We've debated this long enough. And the question is, 'Are we going to do something about it or not?'"

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story suggested that the Chicago Infrastructure Trust is a $7 billion initiative. Rather, the mayor's "Building A New Chicago" infrastructure plan, of which the proposed trust makes up $200 million, is already in the works and "fully paid for," according to the mayor's office. The trust would help finance additional projects building upon those outlined in the "New Chicago" plan.

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Filed by Joseph Erbentraut  |