CALL FOR BACKUP: Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) during a community meeting several years ago in Austin. He's now calling for residents to volunteer as block representatives. | File

Alderman Chris Taliaferro (29th) is launching a new community volunteer initiative to get the word out about goings on in his ward. Anyone who lives in the 29th Ward can volunteer to be a block representative. 

As Taliaferro and his staff explained, the representatives will get information about ward programs and upcoming events, and it would be their job to spread the word. They would also serve as another way residents can get in touch with the ward office and local police districts. The idea, Taliaferro said, was to get as much information out to residents as possible.

The alderman held the informational meeting about the program on March 15 in his ward office at 6272 W. North Ave. It wound up standing room only, with at least 54 people attending — a fact that Taliaferro believes bodes well for the program’s future.

During his March 7 ward community meeting, which was held at Columbia Park Rectory, 5701 W. Jackson Blvd., the alderman laid out why he believed block representatives were necessary.

“We have a growing e-blast list, we have a growing Facebook presence, but still not everybody is getting information,” Taliaferro said. 

The problem, he said, that many residents either don’t get online at all or don’t have regular Internet access. While Facebook and e-mails are free, putting out mass mailings or putting an ad in local community newspapers costs money. 

During the March 15 meeting, he explained that he got the idea for block representatives from South Side Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th). He wanted to try it for a year and if it works well, make it permanent.

Qiana Bradley, Taliaferro’s office manager, explained that a block representative would have a number of responsibilities. Around once a month, she or someone else from the ward office will send out information about upcoming events, programs and projects that would be of interest to 29th Ward residents in general and residents on their block in particular. 

The ward office will provide them with fliers and other materials to help get the word out. Block representatives will also be able to take city service requests from their neighbors and pass them on to the ward office. 

Bradley said that they won’t publicize the block representatives’ names and contact information, but the residents who want to identify their block representatives and how to reach them will be able to contact her by calling the ward office at (773) 237-6460) and Bradley will connect the resident and representative. 

The block representatives would also be another way to improve community and police relations, supporters said. Sgt. Jermaine Harris, a 15th District CAPS officer, said it benefits everyone to have someone relay concerns to the police and get crime-related alerts and other information to their neighbors.

“Representing the block is critical,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to [reduce crime] unless we have support.”

Everybody who attended the March 15 meeting had the opportunity to sign up to be their block club representatives right then and there. Taliaferro said that he was pleasantly surprised by how many people showed up at all.

“I didn’t expect so many people, but when you’re concerned and love your block, [we] should expect it,” he said.


Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...