It’s not quite as titillating as a unionization dispute, but a plan to make aldermen more accountable for city road projects is already generating its share of debate.
Accusing the Board of Aldermen of cronyism in its approach to road improvements, Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 proposed an accountability scheme this week that promises to bring streets, sidewalks and streetlights into the spotlight. But Board of Alderman President Carl Goldfield said he has reservations about the plan, disputing the idea that politics alone drive road improvements and supporting the right of aldermen to push projects in their own community.
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Chen said the legislation, which has yet to be addressed by the full board, would make the road improvement process more equitable.
“There are people who have been calling about their sidewalks for a half-decade or more,” said Chen, who represents part of Yale’s off-campus population in the Dwight neighborhood. “People all over the city complain about their sidewalks, but not one can get them [improved] without a political favor.”
The plan calls for a detailed and publicly available schedule of sidewalk improvements, the advertisement of a hot line and Web site to report broken streetlights and missed trash pickups, and informational postings prior to towing. The schedule would make civic improvements more fair, Chen said, since the city would have a predetermined schedule to follow when deciding which projects to undertake.
For Yalies, legislation on potholes may seem insignificant compared with issues like the national debate over the city’s illegal immigrant-friendly ID cards. But aldermen say that “quality of life” questions are the impetus for about 19 out of every 20 constituent calls they receive.
“Ninety-five percent of the calls I get are on city services, and of that 95 percent, probably 99 percent are about either streets or sidewalks,” Goldfield said. “Everybody wants a new sidewalk, and the streets are in bad shape.”
Although Goldfield said he is withholding final judgment on the proposal for now, he already has some reservations. And if his comments are a harbinger of the debate that might ensue as the legislation passes from committee to the full board, the proposal may turn on varying understandings about the fundamental role of an alderman.
“What does worry me about it is that it takes the alderperson out of the equation,” he said.
Goldfield said an alderman should be “sort of like the ombudsman of the ward” and applauded those moments in which an elected official can meet a resident and “really try to push something for them if there’s a great need.”
Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez, a City Hall critic who proposed the legislation with Chen, said the issue comes down to basics.
“I think it’s important that citizens have a way to communicate to his government and elected officials,” he said. “It would definitely give the average citizen the feel that they have the fair chance to have their concerns dealt with.”
Will it pass?
“Who knows,” he said. “I’m still trying to get passed the ethics reform I’ve been trying to get through for the past three years.”