As you all already know, my mantra for this year is: “Pay Attention Chicago.” When we as citizens don’t pay attention to what is going on, it is usually our pocketbooks that end up bailing out the financial mismanagement by city, county and state officials.

Just the other day, I was reading about Chris Brown doing community service as part of his sentencing for having had the altercation with Rhianna. That got me to thinking. What is going on with community service in Cook County?

I mean, crime hasn’t taken a holiday and we still have tons of individuals who are being processed through the court system for minor infractions, so how come I am not seeing tons of people out doing all sorts of community services and keeping our taxes low?

Recently someone I knew was pulled over for speeding. His choices were to plead guilty, pay a fine and have the ticket go on his record; pay $115 and go to a four-hour traffic school class; or contest the ticket in court.

My friend opted to pay the higher fine and go to traffic school. He said there were at least 40 others in the room with him. There were several traffic school classes being held simultaneously that day, so each municipality that had ticketed the drivers was getting a nice chunk of money for violations ranging from speeding and improper lane change to not wearing a seat belt.

As our politicians talk about budget shortfalls and the need to dip into our pockets and take the last few pennies we have, I wonder where community service is as part of the budget.

I see so much garbage on the streets and expressways, and I can’t remember once seeing crews of community service workers cleaning this entire summer. Maybe it’s just me and others have seen them working, but I haven’t, and I wonder how come? The white Cook County bus and the orange overalls were a rare sight for me to recall seeing over the entire summer.

Wasn’t the entire point of community service the opportunity to have municipalities get free labor and thus save their budgets from having to expend for the particular service?

For example, the state should not have one dime listed in its budget as an expense when it comes to cleaning a single mile of expressway in and around Cook County. Nor should we have had to pay to have all the plants planted on the Dan Ryan after it was repaved.

We should have had a ton of community service workers putting in the plants and covering them with soil. But private companies got the contracts and the money to do it. Why?

If the court system is offering people community service in lieu of jail time or fines, how come so many main streets in Austin and the rest of Chicago are filled to the brim with trash? It would be nice if we began a campaign to make those love to litter have to spend hours picking up trash thrown on the ground by others.

And I want a special punishment of street cleaning given to the numerous men who I see violating the public urination laws. I want to see them wearing placards that state; “I was caught pissing, so now I’m pissed having to do this” as they scrub and clean the filthy entrances and exits to the expressways where the homeless have made their shelters.

“Pay Attention Chicago” to where and how our tax dollars are used. Like those silly traffic circles that are being installed on side streets. Is there any bigger waste of taxpayer’s dollars? Besides the installation costs, we have to pay to landscape them (with weeds more often than not) and maintain them. Why?

As this fall’s campaign season comes into full bloom and politicians who want to hold a different office begin to contact you, be ready with the questions that show you have been paying attention. Ask them how they can save money so that digging into your pocket is not the only option.


If you go…

On Saturday, Oct. 3, Arlene will be reading from and signing copies of her new book, Billion Dollar Winner, from noon to 3 at Kennedy King College Theater, 740 W. 63rd St. Legendary Chicago DJ Herb Kent will also be there selling his book, The Cool Gent, as well as participating in a panel discussion.