Citizen journalists in Chicago should be skeptical but encouraged, that newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel is tweeting out invitations to get involved in “[E]ffective, open and accountable government.” Everyone from citizen journalists to the mainstream media will be watching to see if open, transparent interactions with the public will continue through the transition time and into his time as mayor. The site, called Chicago 2011 is functional rather than fancy, and it says:
“City government is a large and complicated set of interlocking agencies and offices, and it can be a challenge to increase public participation and motivate civic engagement. Taxpayers deserve access to their government so that they can take part in the democratic process and hold public servants accountable. How and would you make City government more open and accountable? What parts of our government could benefit the most from public involvement?”
Minicipal government in Chicago, Ill isn’t known for being open to any outsiders, from mainstream media, to citizens or citizen journalists. In fact, the when the BBC was doing a series about “extremes,” they reached out to local reporter Steve Edwards for a story about Chicago and Illinois, called “Oiling the Machine – Uncovering Corruption in Chicago, an audio exploration of extreme government corruption.
How bad is it? Since 1971, 1,000 Illinois public servants have been convicted of corruption, and in Chicago, 30 aldermen have gone to jail according to Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman who is now teaches political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In February, Chicago voters, or the 41% who turned out to vote, elected Rahm Emanuel as the next mayor. He will replace Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has been in office since 1989 Richard J. Daley, father of Richard M. also served as mayor of Chicago (1954-1976) but that is a story for another day. Emanuel’s inauguration is scheduled for May. His early actions indicate he may open up what has been the black box of information about city finances, hiring, zoning, and other matters.
Through tweets about the Chicago 2011 site, the public is being urged to go to the site and leave public comments, and get involved, during his transition time. The tweets about the site remind people they can ask questions, discuss issues, make suggestions, leave a resume, and generally keep up with the plans for Chicago under Mayor Emanuel.
As the site develops, we’ll return to it, and also track comments from Chicago’s bloggers and hyperlocal citizen media about whether it is really a break from the past in terms of transparency, or simply window dressing to cover up for “business as usual.”