This month’s City Council meeting on April 19 included discussions on ethics rules and violations, a new municipal ID program for the city, a new lighting program for all city street lights (minus details about how the $160 million program will be paid for) and more honorary speeches. Alderman Patrick J. O’Connor (40th Ward) and Alderman Milly Santiago (31st Ward) were absent from this month’s meeting. Some details about items discussed in Council and committee meetings are below:
What is a city employee?
An ordinance failed to pass a full City Council vote that would have allowed aldermen to exempt some of their employees from having to file ethics disclosure statements. Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th Ward) sponsored the ordinance. It failed to pass, with a vote count of 22 yes votes to 24 no votes.
The ordinance would have amended the definition of a city employee, removing independent contractors from the original definition. The proposed ordinance had passed in committee on April 18, but within hours after the committee meeting recessed, Ethics Board Chairman William Conlon spoke out against the ordinance for implementing an “unhealthy secrecy” with some city employees. Approximately 45 city “contractors” would have been impacted by this ordinance. The “contractors” work for aldermen in an official capacity and are paid through the aldermanic expense accounts or political committee funds.
New public safety IG
A new public safety inspector general, Laura Kunard, was approved by City Council. The public safety IG will be in charge of investigating allegations of misconduct within the Chicago Police Department. Kunard will oversee a department of 25 people and be part of the city’s Office of Inspector General. Kunard holds a Ph.D. as a senior research scientist for justice programs and comes from a process research organization in Arlington, Virginia, called CNA. The creation of this new public safety IG post is a result of the disbanding of IPRA (Independent Police Review Authority), which was replaced with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) after the Laquan McDonald murder by Chicago police.
New South Loop school to be built entirely with TIF funds
Council approved an ordinance to use $48,333,000 in city funds coming from the River South Redevelopment Area TIF funds for the construction of a new elementary school in the South Loop. Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) said this new school will help alleviate the overcrowding due to a surge in South Loop population over the past several years. The current South Loop Elementary School is located at 1212 S. Plymouth Ct. and is serving 839 students, which is well over its 530-student capacity. The new school will be located at 16th and Dearborn Street, where a vacant post office now sets. The new school will accommodate 1,200 students and is expected to open in 2019.
Municipal identification card approved
City Council approved the first phase of the implementation of the municipal ID card. A previously approved $1 million line item has been set aside for the program with the City Clerk’s Office. The card will be available to people who have trouble obtaining a state ID.
City Clerk Anna Valencia explained that the ID will be accepted only in the city of Chicago and cannot be used for the purchase of liquor or cigarettes, or for driving. Several aldermen questioned why the city is engaging in a process that already exists through the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office. Alderman Nick Sposato (38th Ward) questioned how the program will assure the identity of those applying for it. Valencia suggested that her office will follow the New York standard of a four-point system. Valencia also said her office is still exploring software vendors.
After questions from Alderman Jason Ervin (28th Ward), Valencia confirmed that a person will be able to open a bank account with a municipal ID. Alderman Marty Quinn (13th Ward) suggested that the program might be able to expand to a mobile unit operation. Alderman Greg Mitchell (7th Ward) asked if the municipal ID will allow holders to register to vote. Clerk Valencia said that her office is exploring that possibility. Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) suggested that the program ought to consider going to the entire county.
Chicago Smart Lighting Project
A $160 million street lighting program was passed by City Council. The program will replace approximately 270,000 city street lights with new LED lights over the next four years. The program will not be part of the Infrastructure Trust program as originally planned, but instead will use “other means” for funding. Rebekah Scheinfeld, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, and Leslie Darling, executive director of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, both testified that funding for the project will come from a combination of bonds, TIF funds and other “sources”; however, no real details have been released.
Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) pushed for details on the procurement process that awarded Ameresco, Inc. of Massachusetts as the winning bidder for the street light project. Darling said that Ameresco was picked due to quality and performance analysis, not the best value.
Lyons View Manufacturing, located in the Austin neighborhood, will be receiving the largest percentage share (19%) of the minority contracting for this project at approximately $29.5 million.
The Finance Committee passed and City Council approved the expansion of the Retail Thrive Zones pilot program to help promote and attract retail businesses to specified areas of the city and assist new businesses through the bureaucracy of permits and licenses. The program targets eight at-risk communities in Chicago, including Austin, Back of the Yards, Bronzeville, Chatham, Englewood, South Shore, West Humboldt Park and West Pullman. The program is an offshoot of the recently launched Neighborhood Opportunity Fund.
Alderman Anthony Beale (9th Ward) was concerned that the new Thrive Zone ordinance would take away the power of the alderman in approving new businesses. Alderman Willie B. Cochran (20th Ward) also expressed this concern and suggested that a provision be added to the ordinance that would alert the alderman whenever a new thrive zone applicant began the process in his or her district.
No texting and driving
Alderman Ed Burke (14th Ward) proposed a pilot program that would give Chicago police officers the ability to access drivers’ phones to determine if they were using their phone before a traffic accident. The technology, called a “textalyzer,” has not yet been tested in any major city in the country and has received criticism from civil rights groups for potentially violating people’s privacy.
No public comments yet
No citizens were allowed to give public comments at the full City Council meeting, despite a judge’s order and the city agreeing to abide by the judicial ruling that permits public comment. Aldermen spent more than an hour during the council meeting delivering honorary speeches about a former alderman who recently passed away, a high school sports team victory and many other non-city business.
Police misconduct lawsuits settled
Four police misconduct lawsuits were settled at City Council, totaling $925,000. Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) and Alderman David Moore (17th Ward) each voted no on two of the suits.
Alderman Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) proposed an ordinance to disband the O’Hare airport aviation police. This comes after the recent United Airlines fiasco in which a passenger was dragged off an airplane and injured after resisting giving up his seat to make room for United Airlines employees. Lopez suggested that the 305 aviation police be merged into the Chicago Police Department.
Call for quorum
Before the full council meeting, a committee meeting on April 11 was forced to end due to not enough aldermen being in attendance. The Education Committee meeting was cut short prematurely after Alderman Rick Munoz (22nd Ward) called for a quorum count and not enough aldermen were present to have an official committee meeting. Before the meeting ended, Resolution R2017-212 dealing with education funding was pulled from the agenda at the last minute.
The Education Committee reconvened on April 18, minus the funding resolution.