(TNS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants to merge two city departments to save $1 million as she works to close an $838 million budget shortfall.
Lightfoot announced plans Wednesday to consolidate the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology with Fleet and Facility Management. Any merger would need to be approved by the City Council and would take effect in 2020, the administration said.
The proposed merger highlights the political and financial challenges Lightfoot is confronting ahead of a budget address later this month where she’ll unveil proposals to close the city’s budget gap.
Lightfoot also announced that the chief data officer and chief information officer positions will move to the mayor’s office, which the administration said would allow them to “build new data initiatives that support more efficient operations, including spearheading a renewed open data strategy and harnessing large data sources to drive transformation throughout programs and operations.”
Lightfoot in a statement said the moves “will ensure a more efficient, 21st century data and technology model to put Chicago at the forefront for driving excellence and innovation across all operations, and for the residents we serve.”
“The proposed consolidation will retain all current technology and data talent and services provided by DoIT today, aligning them with a department focused on supporting other city departments in providing the most efficient and effective services to neighborhoods," Lightfoot spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said in a written statement. “This move will help reimagine the use of technology, and will also generate savings as we work to maximize efficiency throughout our operations for the 2020 budget and beyond.”
But merging the two departments drew some criticism on social media.
Tom Schenk Jr., who served as the city’s chief data officer under Rahm Emanuel, tweeted: “Today, City of Chicago has made a terrible decision to merge IT operations with fleet and facility (who manages properties and city vehicles). That’s right, someone is going to have to manage cars, buildings and IT in one job.”
Derek Eder, board president of Chi Hack Night, tweeted that the merger “seems like a bad idea.”
“From my understanding, the roles and responsibilities of these two departments don’t really overlap at all,” Eder wrote. “It also downplays the innovation role that DoIT takes in a major way - something the City really needs more of!”
Dating to her campaign for mayor earlier this year, Lightfoot has repeatedly promised to cut expenses wherever she could before seeking to raise politically unpopular taxes.
But the city’s gargantuan shortfall is large enough that some form of increased taxes will be necessary, as the mayor has previously acknowledged.
Lightfoot has not yet detailed her plans to close the budget shortfall. She will give a budget address to the City Council on Oct. 23.
The administration has said it would need help from state legislators in the upcoming fall veto session, including a potential increase in the real estate transfer tax on expensive homes, but it’s not clear how much help the legislature will provide.
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