| by Kelly Tarrant and Abigail Hart

On Wednesday, the Chicago City Council had their monthly full council meeting. A new $95 million police training facility, changes to the sexual harassment policy for the city, budget proposals and new regulations were among the items debated and voted on.

New police training academy

City Council passed a $10 million acquisition of 30 acres of land for the new Public Safety Training Academy, a joint training facility for Chicago’s police and fire departments. The academy will cost $95 million in total, $60 million of which is not yet solidly funded. The facility will be housed in Alderman Emma Mitts’ 37th Ward.

The new academy faced significant criticism from the public, which questioned how the city would pay for the project and what would be a better allocation of money. However, aldermen widely praised the new academy, to be set at 4301 W. Chicago Ave., as a way to spur economic development in Chicago’s westside neighborhoods while making them safer. 

New sexual harassment policies for City Hall

The council passed a beefed-up sexual harassment ordinance that enables Chicago’s inspector general to investigate claims of sexual harassment made by City employees against Chicago’s elected officials. The ordinance further empowers the Chicago Board of Ethics to impose fines of $1,000 to $5,000 on elected officials who violate the sexual harassment prohibition. Prior to the passage of this ordinance, elected officials were largely exempt from the sexual harassment protections offered under the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state-level Illinois Department of Human Rights.

 Cracking down on distracted walking

Alderman Anthony Beale (9th Ward) proposed an ordinance to fine pedestrians caught crossing the street or highway while using a cell phone. Violators would face fines ranging from $90 to $500 per occurrence. The law would be enforced by police through ticketing. This measure was referred to the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety.

More Airbnb bans

Four more precincts in Alderman Michael Zalewski’s 23rd Ward now ban shared housing. This brings the total number to seven precincts banning shared housing, or Airbnb, in the 23rd Ward, out of a total of 39 precincts. In addition, neighboring Alderman Marty Quinn of the 13th Ward has introduced a shared-housing ban for the 34th Precinct of the ward. Quinn has already successfully banned shared housing in 23 precincts out of the 48 total precincts in his ward.

Moratorium on liquor licenses

Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) has put a moratorium on new tavern licenses in several two-block zones of the River North area. Reilly claims this is a response to a number of quality-of-life complaints in his ward. With this ordinance in place, those interested in opening a new tavern or nightclub cannot circumvent the police commander or the alderman’s office.

City lot sales

Council also approved the City Lots for Working Families program, an initiative introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to spur construction of affordable single-family homes on vacant city-owned property. Administered by the Department of Planning and Development, the selected lots will be available to developers for $1, and completed homes will cost approximately $300,000.

Catalyst Fund board members

Council passed the appointment of four members of the newly formed Catalyst Fund board of directors. They include Juan Avila, Michelle Collins, Richard Price and Stuart Taylor II. CFO Carole Brown spoke on four general bond obligations and the refinancing of a water bond that will include $400 million from a refund of the water revenue bond and $450 million from an Illinois EPA loan.

New housing/library building

Council members passed a joint project between the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) for a seven-story mixed-use building on Taylor Street in the 28th Ward. This $36 million facility will house a library on the 15,000-square-foot street level, with 73 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Thirty-seven units are dedicated for CHA residents, 29 will be rented at affordable rates, and seven would be offered at market rate. Funding will come from $7 million in tax increment financing, money from the Chicago Housing Authority, federal tax credits and other housing funds. Almost half the money is expected to come from the CHA. This project is a continuation of the redevelopment of the former ABLA Homes public housing development.

Landmark status for Rosenwald Apartments

Rosenwald Apartments, located in Alderman Pat Dowell’s 3rd Ward, has received landmark status. The apartment complex opened in 1930 as affordable housing with a monthly rent of $62. The complex had sat vacant for nearly 15 years until City Council passed a combined $107 million in TIF and tax incentives to create a massive housing renovation project offering 239 one- and two-bedroom apartments for families and seniors.

New building in 25th Ward

A new 17-story mixed-use building in the 25th Ward was passed. Alderman Danny Solis supported this new development, saying that it will address both city and ward needs. The location, behind Chicago’s Greektown, is already highly concentrated with condos and apartment buildings. The developer will pay $2.15 million to Chicago’s Neighborhood Opportunity bonus system and offer seven affordable units on site. Also $3.67 million will be donated to the affordable housing fund.

New building in 28th Ward

A 19-story apartment complex in the 28th Ward has been approved. The building will be located on the corner of Ashland and Taylor in Chicago’s Little Italy/Illinois Medical District neighborhood. Six affordable units will be provided on site, with the developer paying $2.37 million into the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund.

Opposing federal tax change

Alderman Ed Burke (14th Ward) introduced a resolution urging the Illinois Congressional Delegation to oppose changes proposed by President Trump that would cap property tax deductions for homeowners and make other controversial changes. The so-called “SALT” or “state and local tax” deduction would become the most significant tax break eliminated under the proposed tax reform. The resolution was sent to the Committee on Finance.

Budget hearings

This month the city held budget hearings for all city departments to discuss the budget proposals for 2018. City Council will vote on the full budget proposal in mid to late November.

COPA (Civilian Office of Police Accountability)

Judge Patricia Banks, interim chief of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, presented COPA’s 2018 budget before Council. Some aldermen raised concerns that the new department is not receiving enough funding to be an effective police oversight agency.

Alderman David Moore (17th Ward) pointed out that COPA’s budget, just under $13.3 million, falls short of the 2016 ordinance that held the agency should receive no less than 1 percent of the Police Department’s budget, which is recommended at $1.5 billion for FY 2018.

Chicago Board of Election

During the Chicago Board of Election commissioners budget hearing, Executive Director Lance Gough stated that early and absentee voting were going very well. Communications Director Jim Allen noted the 350,000 early voting ballots cast in 2016 broke the previous record by 40 percent and the 92,000 votes by mail were the highest number since World War II. Gough also announced plans to upgrade 13-year-old voting equipment.

Gough discussed potential same-day voter registration fraud by pointing out that anyone showing up to vote on Election Day would still be required to provide proof of identification. Additionally, the Board of Election has the capability to determine on the spot whether a person has already registered or voted.

Gough also discussed the Municipal ID program. It isn’t clear yet what other types of documentation those who possess a Municipal ID would need in order to register to vote, but Gough stated that it is illegal for any non-citizen to vote in any federal, state or municipal elections.

Police Board

Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot’s budget hearing testimony started off with Alderman Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) objecting to waiving the reading of her opening statement and said that her 2017 opening statement looked identical to her 2016 opening statement.

Alderman Burke sharply questioned Lightfoot on whether or not she discussed with the police superintendent recommendations to increase the department’s efficiency and if those recommendations were posted to the Police Board’s website. Lightfoot mentioned the new use-of-force policy as an example but could not recall if it was posted to the website.

Lightfoot redirected the rest of her testimony to reflect that she wishes the deputy inspector general for public safety to demonstrate the mission and scope of police reform and what the deliverables will be and wants to ensure the core structural problems identified by the Department of Justice report are addressed.

Office of Inspector General

While Inspector General Joe Ferguson appeared ready and willing to discuss the operations of his office, aldermen largely chose to focus on Ferguson’s recently published op-ed in the Sun-Times discussing the city’s ongoing problems with gun violence. The other major theme of the hearing, as with most of the budget hearings, concerned the OIG’s hiring of minorities and the office’s use of minority-owned businesses (although, as Ferguson noted, the vast majority of the OIG’s procurement is done through other city agencies).

The Office of the Inspector General has approximately 97 employees and an allocation of $8,890,897 for FY 2018.

Department of Aviation

Commissioner Ginger Evans proposed a 2018 operating budget of $1.25 billion for O’Hare and $283.2 million for Midway.

Evans spoke of the Midway Modernization Plan, which will expand the concession facilities and garages. Alderman Quinn pressed for more information on the testing of homes that participated in the Residential Sound Insulation Program. Residents have complained about a noxious odor coming from the windows. An outside source is testing the air quality of six homes. Quinn also asked that all of the problematic windows be replaced, despite a lapsed 10-year warranty from the now-closed Sound Solutions Windows & Doors Inc. that installed them.

Chicago Police Department

Superintendent Eddie Johnson reported at the November 2 budget hearing that Chicago had nearly 550 fewer shootings than at the same time last year. City-wide, 18 out of 22 districts had fewer shootings than in 2016. Johnson says the launching of the Strategic Decision Support Centers has helped improve the deployment and responses in active districts. Johnson described a two-year hiring plan, with approximately 100 new recruits to enter training each month until the end of 2018.

Water department

Newly appointed Commissioner Randy Conner addressed City Council, assuring that he has “hit the reset button.” Conner stated he has a new culture in the beleaguered Department of Water Management that he inherited. Conner was appointed as commissioner in May after Mayor Emanuel fired Commissioner Barrett Murphy as a result of the city inspector general’s report on racism in the department, which included a series of racist emails. Since the uncovering of the email scandal, five employees have either resigned or retired from the department. Conner also reported that there are only 252 women among the 1,892 employees in the water department. Conner plans to do more outreach with women in the trades. Conner says the goal of 900 miles of sewer restoration will be met by 2021.