Candidate questionnaires

Placeholder for Michelle R. Baert

Michelle R. Baert

Candidate for City Council, 45th Ward

Michelle R. Baert

Candidate for City Council, 45th Ward

Placeholder for Michelle R. Baert

Education: B.A. Communications, Purdue University.

Occupation: Candidate

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered

Website: http://MichelleBaert2015.com

Candidates running for City Council, 45th Ward


Responses to the Chicago Tribune's questionnaire

Q: Last year, the Chicago Tribune's investigative series "Broken Bonds" reported that, since 2000, Chicago had issued long-term bonds to spend nearly $10 billion, much of it for short-term operating expenses. Hundreds of millions of dollars went to delay bond payments by refinancing old debts, a tactic known as "scoop and toss" that extends payments far into the future. Was this borrowing justified? Going forward, how should City Hall change its finances to pay down existing debts and provide services? Will you argue primarily for cuts in spending or for tax increases? Please be specific.

At the time the decision was made to engage in this type of borrowing, I was not a member of the City Council. Especially as I do not have all the information, facts, data and analysis the Council had at the time, I do not believe it would be appropriate to second guess decisions that were made. I can say, however, that I do not believe this type of borrowing is an ideal approach and would prefer to seek and identify other alternative solutions to the budget crisis the City faces. The City should make every effort to renegotiate where possible and identify other revenue means. I support a balanced approach, one that examines where to cut spending and eliminate waste and then identify revenue increases which do not impact the middle class. Increased revenue may be possible from excess TIF funds and continued combined efforts between city, state and other stakeholders to address public pensions.


Q: Chicago will face a substantial increase in contributions to its police and fire pension funds in 2016. Chicago's unfunded pension liability amounts to about $7,000 for each resident of the city. How should the city solve its pension crisis? Please be specific about pension changes, spending cuts or revenue increases you would support.

I believe Chicago must meet its legal obligations with regards to the pension funds. However, before putting forth specific plans to address this crisis, it is important to note that the entire pension reform issue is now before the courts and as an elected official I will be bound to follow the legal decision of the Illinois Supreme Court.


Q: What changes should be made in the city's use of tax increment financing? Would you support expansion or extension of TIF districts in your ward? How should excess TIF funds be spent? Do you support the $55 million allotment of TIF funds to buy land for a Marriott Hotel and DePaul basketball arena? Please explain.

The TIF program has been a useful tool in incentivizing development in the City of Chicago. More importantly, this tool has led to the increase of large developments in the City – creating more construction and trades jobs. I believe that we must increase transparency in the process, ensuring that the true intent of the TIF Program is achieved. When goals are met, I believe that only the excess should be considered as possible revenue. I do support the expansion of TIF districts in the 45th Ward as it will serve as an invaluable tool to strengthen infrastructure. I support the proposed DePaul development project as it will serve as a boost to the construction and trades industries while generating additional revenue. It is important to note that this is not just a stadium for DePaul but a community facility for most of the calendar year.


Q: The Tribune Editorial Board recently offered "12 ways to heal a city" — the best ideas among more than 1,000 suggestions from readers on how to craft "A new Plan of Chicago." These proposals are available at chicagotribune.com/plan. Please tell us which ideas you would champion. We invite you to offer additional ideas for dealing with Chicago's challenges.

The 12 point Plan outlined in the Tribune is a very good starting point. It is rooted in a common sense approach. I support all of the points and would recommend using it as a starting plan to move forward. I would also note that many of the issues raised in the plan are in effect but need to be expanded or considered in a more comprehensive manner in order to reach full potential.


Q: Should the City Council keep or abolish the office of legislative inspector general? Should the city inspector general be given the authority to investigate aldermen and their staff members? Do you have other ideas to improve government ethics in Chicago? Please explain.

I understand the public perception need for an Inspector General to oversee the City Council, but at this time, I support expanding Inspector General Ferguson's authority so that there is one inspector general and one office responsible.


Q: The Chicago Public Schools system has seen significant improvements in freshmen on track and high school graduation rates. CPS has also closed dozens of schools, used fiscal 2016 revenue to balance its 2015 budget and faces a roughly $700 million pension payment in 2016. Please give us your assessment of the academic and financial performance of the city's public schools. What is the key to improving public education in the city? Should members of the Board of Education be elected by the public or continue to be appointed by the mayor? Do you support the longer school day and year? Should CPS expand or reduce the number of charter schools? How should CPS close its significant budget gap?

I am a parent of school aged children – both in public and private schools. I'm also active with my local CPS' Parent Teacher Organization and previously served on the Local School Council. I'm a strong supporter of quality schools and educational options and access for children and their families. Because of my experience, I believe I offer the issue of education a different vantage point. The funding of education and the proper management of the finances is the major concern. The City of Chicago will not be able to identify ways to maintain and improve educational outcomes until we solve and stabilize the funding issue. I support Charter schools, but believe they should be held accountable to the same standards and reporting requirements as Chicago Public Schools. I also strongly support "building trades" schools so students with a passion for the trades can learn skills and crafts early on in their lives. I understand the concept behind the desire for an elected school board and the recent issues with Mayoral appointments along with the concerns of politics in the process. However, as someone who has been elected and served on the Local School Council, I also understand that these concerns have to be balanced by the cost of an elected school board and a lack of candidates -- something we have seen citywide at the LSC level. Additionally, an elected school board will only put more politics into the process while adding another layer of bureaucracy. I believe the money and energy that would go into an elected school board would be better spent directly on education. I do support a longer school day and year.


Q: How would you attract more employers to your ward? How would you encourage employers to hire local residents? What have you done to promote economic development in your ward?

As alderman, I would work to improve relations between the alderman's office and the numerous Chamber of Commerce organizations, the local community civic groups and form an active Small Business Advisory. I would have a staff member dedicated as Ward Liaison to aggressively promote the Ward and serve the local organizations to generate more awareness of local businesses while creating an environment which would attract investment. Attracting more employers and businesses begins with strengthening the people and the infrastructure in the neighborhoods. I wouldn't have the traditional "alderman's office," but rather an open Community Technology Center where residents can learn, connect and collaborate. It will be a hub of information providing residents with direction to programs provided by all levels of government while offering a place to learn. Children will have a place to explore technology, seniors can learn the basics and young adults can learn new skills. Local businesses can use the office as their central access point for Federal, State and Local programs available to them. I would also aggressively focus on infrastructure. Potential employers, existing businesses and residents need smooth roads and clean streets as a step towards success. I would allocate a higher percentage of menu money on street resurfacing and plan out projects through my entire first term in my first year in office so that better long-term planning and coordination can be done. As a former marketing executive with 20th Century Fox and former business owner, I understand the importance of marketing. Our office would create an online business and investor portal that would highlight the benefits of opening in the Ward, assistance our office and local Chambers are able to offer and opportunities available for investors. For the last two years, I continue to publish 45thWardMom.com – a website filled with community activities, local business highlights and a regularly updated calendar of neighborhood events. We maintain a strong following and have built strong relationships with local businesses, neighborhood organizations, community groups, schools and churches by promoting their missions.


Q: Do you support or oppose the City Council vote to increase the minimum wage in several steps to $13 an hour by 2019? Please explain.

I do not support the minimum wage increase for several reasons. During challenging times, we need to help small businesses and create an environment that welcomes new employers. A Chicago-only increase will drive businesses out of the area and into neighboring suburbs and states. With increased costs and the uncertainty of healthcare, small businesses need greater incentives and assistance to hire more people and sustain themselves. With an increased City minimum wage, the shrinking employment opportunities will find more competition from non-Chicago residents. We need to keep wages even and competitive so that businesses and local residents have a fair opportunity for starter wages. We should focus on increasing the growth of higher paid work opportunities by incentivizing employers with high skilled job positions while creating opportunities for residents to build and train a high skilled workforce. We should also insure equality in pay to shrink the pay gap between men and women doing the same work. An international City cannot grow or sustain itself with a sole focus of increasing starter pay rates. We must increase the number of higher paying jobs, strengthen the skills of the workforce and recruit higher paying businesses to the City.


Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.

Yes, I fully support the Lucas Museum. The City will benefit from the construction jobs and long term employment opportunities that increased tourism will bring as a result of the museum. The Museum Campus is the appropriate location. My only issue with the proposed Lucas Museum is that the design needs to better reflect the look of the area and all environmental concerns must be addressed.


Q: How can the city improve public safety? Please address the role and performance of the Chicago Police Department and the role of neighborhood residents in crime prevention. What have you done to improve public safety in your community?

Compared to other wards in Chicago, the 45th Ward has a fairly low crime rate, especially with respect to shootings and homicides. However, the citywide crime rate affects everyone and our community has seen many more instances of violence and robberies. As alderman, I will work with my local police commander, CAPS, local block clubs, other community groups and local residents -- meeting regularly to address concerns, brainstorm new solutions and coordinate efforts. I support preventive programs and more street officers as an effective tool to fight crime. Investing in education and jobs is a good way to save dollars later spent on hospital care for shooting victims and criminal justice costs. In assessing the performance of the Chicago Police Department, I believe they have done a wonderful job in certain instances, specifically the G8 Summit and the recent protests. Beat sizes should be smaller and there should be more patrols for quicker response times and to make for a better deterrence to criminals. We should also increase efforts to identify technology based on "best practices" to bring greater efficiency to identify and apprehend criminals. Recently, I attended the Chicago Police Department's 9-week Citizen Police Academy to learn more about the force and the challenges our City faces. Finally, I would create an "opt-in" communications platform combining emails and texting to better communicate alerts to residents in real time.


Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.

At this time, I support the Traffic light program. Every new program requires time to determine its effectiveness. As data is collected and analyzed, final determinations can be made. I'd be interested in viewing the data to make a better assessment.


Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?

I do not believe there is any real value to reducing the number of alderman. Any supposed cost savings will only eventually reappear on another budget. If elected, I will do my part to save money for the City – I will opt out of any City pension for myself, not take any pay increase and self-impose a 2 term limit.


Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?

I'm running for alderman to focus on the basics – City services, education, economic development and public safety. Somewhere in the constant negative debate of politics, working families and the middle class have been ignored. The cost of government is too high and the rate of return in City services to residents too low. Residents simply want the basics addressed. Local residents want responsive local government who listens to their needs and makes decisions accordingly. Zoning changes and major proposals supported by the current alderman have been a recent challenge with residents in the Ward. In the last three years, more liquor stores and more high concentrated multi-unit dwellings have been built/proposed against the wishes of the local community. I would offer more community input on all large scale proposals and zoning changes by calling for a vote for all residents (18+) living in a three block radius of the proposed location. If the local community votes in favor of the proposal, the alderman's office will support the proposal.


Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

I have been trained in Krav Maga – a fighting and combat art.