Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a budget Oct. 12 that aims to make large strides in closing a projected $636 million shortfalland it includes a major revamp of the city's advisory councils.
Under the subcategory "Commission on Human Relations," Emanuel has proposed having directors/community liaisons for the Advisory Council on Gender and Sexuality and the Advisory Council on Equity; each individual would receive an annual salary of $86,796.
However, in establishing these positions, several other councils would no longer exist, including those pertaining to African affairs; Arab affairs; Asian affairs; Latino affairs; immigration and refugees; women; and gay and lesbian issues. ( The directors/liaisons of those departments were being paid the same amount as in the new position: $86,796. ) The aforementioned councils would be housed under gender and sexuality as well as equity. The Advisory Council on Veteran Affairs remains intact.
One individual whom the budget proposal negatively affects is Director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues Bill Greaves, who will lose his job.
According to the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, Greaves was invited to join the council in 1995. Five years later, he became director.
Windy City Times obtained an email that Greaves sent to members of that particular advisory council. "At a meeting this morning Commissioner [ of the Department of Human Relations Mona ] Noriega informed me that as of January 1 I will no longer be employed by the City of Chicago," the email states. "There will be reorganizations of the Advisory Councils, which we can discuss at our meeting October 19.
"I have been told by the Commissioner that my only responsibilities between now and the end of my tenure as Director are to request letters from the Mayor for the Hall of Fame inductees and to assist with the transition."
( Greaves and First Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations Ken Gunn referred Windy City Times to the mayor's press office. The office had not responded as of the print deadline. )
Other than the email, council members appeared not to have been briefed on the changes. William Kelley declined to comment because he said did not have enough information to do so. Gary Chichester and Robert Castillo also said there were uncertain as to what the changes would mean for the council. Lawrence Perea declined to comment but added that he "was sad to get the news of the sweeping changes to the commission and advisory councils."
State Rep. Deb Mell, who also sits on the council, said she, too, received no information beyond Greaves' email but expressed concerns over the changes.
"I know firsthand how hard Bill [ Greaves ] works," Mell said. "It's a loss. I think ... he's a valuable asset there."
Beth Kelly, chair of the council, called both Greaves' proposed departure and the reorganization of councils an "affront to LGBT communities in Chicago" and a "symbolic erasure."
"I think it's really important for people to think about the practical and symbolic consequences of this proposal should it come to fruition," Kelly said. "It sends a message that Chicago does not care about this community."
Kelly said that she had not been given direction on who might head the new council on gender and sexuality, but said that she personally had no interest in the position. Further, she said, she is not sure she would want to serve on the new council, given the name.
Kelly also argued that there are practical concerns in reorganization. Kelly worries that the changes will undo progress the LGBT community has made with the Chicago Police Department and that by not naming "LGBT" specifically, the community will be less likely to report incidents of discrimination.
Greaves' position as LGBT liaison to the mayor was established in 1984 when Mayor Harold Washington appointed Kit Duffy to the volunteer position. Following his passing and Duffy's consequent departure from the job, the position became a funded job with added responsibilities.
Greaves, in his time as director, balanced both cultural event planning and policy making, a role that Duffy believes is indispensable.
"I have a tough time thinking that the ordinary mechanics of the City of Chicago will take care of the LGBT community," Duffy told Windy City Times. "I think [ this change ] signals a lack of recognition, and I think it signals an ignorance of impact."
Council member Bob Zuley said the news raises questions about the mayor's connection to LGBT Chicagoans.
"The larger question is what input will our community have in the Emanuel administration now that the future of the LGBT advisory council appears in doubt, Zuley said. "At stake is what investment will the city make in serving the unmet needs of LGBT people through substantive policy and practice."
One area whose budget did not suffer is HIV/AIDS care. Proposed budgets for HIV/AIDS prevention and services, however, have not been cut. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) praised the news but cautioned against proposed cuts to public health services.
"In the midst of an over $600 million budget deficit, significant layoffs of city workers, proposed closing and consolidation of police and fire stations and other austerity measures, level funding for HIV programs comes as a relief for AIDS advocates and service providers," the organization said in a statement.
"AFC is glad that Mayor Emanuel understands the importance of HIV prevention, which is what the city's HIV funding supports," added Pete Subkoviak, a policy coordinator at AFC. "Over the past 10 years new HIV infections in Chicago have decreased by 30 percent, and that would not have been possible without financial backing from City Hall."
AFC urged the mayor to reconsider plans to lay off 17 percent of public health workers and transfer 29,000 city clinic patients to non-profit agencies.
In addition, libraries have been hit hard. Emanuel is proposing a total of $42,289,501 be devoted to personnel next year; the 2011 total is $50,573,254. In its Oct. 12 issue, Windy City Times reported that the John Merlo Library, 644 W. Belmont, might be in danger of closing. This particular branch is known for its extensive collection of LGBT materials.
Chicago Public Library Director of Marketing Ruth Lednicer said Oct. 13 that no public library would be closed but that hours at certain branches would be affected by budget cuts. Details about which libraries would be affected and to what extent are still being worked out, she said.
Among the many other items in Emanuel's proposal are an increase in fees for larger vehicles, such as trucks and sports-utility vehicles; an increase in parking fees in downtown lots and garages; laying off approximately 500 city workers; a revamping of the garbage-collection system ( grid-based from ward-based ) ; and, perhaps most controversial, the closures of three of the city's 25 district police stations.