We had a story last week about Alderman Aron Wisneski attempting to find about $16,250 for decorative lamp posts for his constituents living on Lathrop Ave.
Nearby streets have the lights, and Wisneski argued the lights made sense to maintain the continuity of the neighborhood. But city staff disagreed and the council, meeting as a committee, split 7-5 in favor of giving the decorative lights to the Lathrop Ave. residents. The full council will vote next week, and may kill the request.
There's an interesting side note to this story that speaks to the oddity of city government. The main argument against the lights was, simply, there's no money. That makes sense given the economy, tight city budgets, dwindling tax base, and so on.
But it's really about motivation. Just this week the Finance and Personnel Committee found $38,737 in the parks budget to replace lights in Island Park. It also agreed to move $103,500 from the city's "Street Light Removal" account to pay for professional services related to stimulus money for street lights.
No doubt both votes were reasonable and prudent. But it's clear city staff - and City Council committees, to some degree - can find money when they want to. It's just a matter of who they want to help.
(As an aside, it also shows the difficulty of government oversight. Even City Council members have trouble tracking the thousands, even millions, of dollars the city's professional staff is responsible for. Full-time employees hold a lot of power, in many cases, more than any elected official.)