Having the Mayor visit us was a surreal experience. There’s so much energy around him– security, personal aides, communications folks– then Alderman, staff working on whatever he’s announcing, TV, press, the public– jockeying for attention. All this energy swirls around, and there’s the Mayor at the center of it– calm and charming. As personable as he is, you can’t help but have that "OMG-I’m-talking-to-THE-MAYOR-feeling."
Mayor Emmanuel chose our place for a press conference to announce a new ordinance to streamline business licenses in Chicago. We have 117 different ones here– more than four other cities combined. The new ordinance reduces it to 49. I was shocked when the Mayor’s staff said he wanted to come here. The Dept of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) has been antagonistic and heavy-handed throughout LSK’s lifetime– The Reader profiled our difficulties in the Fall of 2010. Unfortunately, unfair regulations and roadblocks still continue today with our shared kitchen clients. One shared kitchen client refers to BACP as the "department of dream killers."
While I was asked to share our experience in the press conference, I did so in a very general way. If I had begun to relate specifics, I would have lost my composure. Intimidation, contempt, threats, harrassment– we’ve suffered them all at the hands of City employees. I was treated like a deadbeat criminal from the first day I walked into City Hall.
I take comfort believing that our troubles will make things easier for small businesses in the future. The new ordinance was introduced in City Council last week, and passed in the same council. This surprised me; I expected at least a month would pass between introduction and passage, so the City Council Committee on Licenses could hold hearings.
If you’re interested in a mind-numbing exercise, here’s a copy of the ordinance in "red-lined" form— the red type showing you the changes to the old law. Something easier to digest is this summary presentation of changes.
These changes will take effect January 1, 2013. While the law is a good first step, I don’t believe the existing talent in BACP is capable of implementing the reform. They’re the same people that have worked in BACP for years under Daley. The same staff that got it all locked up the way it is today– those are the same folks we think will fix it? That’s just bad casting.
I was encouraged by how impatient Mayor Emmanuel is to change things in Chicago. But until we start cleaning house, our commitment to real change is still largely theoretical. BACP is out of its depth in providing constructive, supportive, solution oriented services. We can streamline and reorganize all day long, but until City Leaders clean house– we continue to suffer.