How Are Berwyn Aldermen Using Their Expense Accounts?

Media coverage of Berwyn’s 5th Ward Alderman Robert J. Pabon using his aldermanic expense account towards participatory budgeting has prompted residents of other wards to ask, “What is my alderman spending their funds on?”

Pabon is the first alderman to introduce participatory budgeting to Berwyn, a democratic process that gives residents decision-making power over public funds. The process has been used in several cities across the nation, most recently in the allocation of millions in federal COVID funds. Unlike Berwyn, which received $32M in American Rescue Plan Act funds but failed to seek community input, cities from Seattle to Evanston have used participatory budgeting to let residents decide how to best use the funds to improve their communities. 

Pabon began the process last May, inviting residents to brainstorm the kind of community they’d like to see, issues impacting the ward, and ideas for ward projects and initiatives. After a series of meetings, 5th Ward residents can now vote for 3 of their preferred projects through May 16th.

This year, aldermanic expense accounts increased from $4,500 to $7,500, with an annual increase of $750. The change was proposed by 6th Ward Alderman Alicia Ruiz at the City Council meeting on 11/22/22 and passed unanimously (see page 23 for her letter to Council). Ruiz’s proposal to also increase aldermanic salaries from $10,000 to $30,000 was deferred after community members discovered egregious errors in the data she provided to support the raise. 

The following screenshots from the Accounts Payable General Ledger Distribution Report show how aldermen have used their expense accounts from 12/31/22 through 4/27/23. Note:

  • The Accounts Payable reports are publicly available. They appear at the end of the full City Council agenda packet for each meeting. 
  • City Council meetings are held twice a month, every 2nd and 4th Tuesday at 8pm at Berwyn City Hall, 6700 W 26th Street. 
  • The first column of the screenshots shows who received the funds. Several expenses are donations to local nonprofits. If the name of the alderman appears in the first column, that indicates the funds are a reimbursement for expenses they made out of pocket. Those receipts can be FOIA’d from the City Clerk’s office.  

Post by Luz Chávez, 5th Ward resident