| by Kelly Tarrant

On Wednesday, March 28, the Chicago City Council held its monthly full council meeting. The multi-billion-dollar expansion project for O’Hare Airport was the main item up for debate and vote. Other items discussed and voted on included incorrect property assessments for some major buildings downtown, bans on body armor sales in Chicago, police oversight and more.

$4 billion for O’Hare expansion

A $4 billion bond issuance to pay for various capital projects at O’Hare Airport has passed council, with Alderman Ed Burke, 14th Ward, and Alderman Patrick Daley Thompson, 11th Ward, recusing from the vote because of conflicts of interest. The bond is the first roll-out of the expected $8.5 billion expansion project at O’Hare and will be managed by JPMorgan, Citibank and Loop Capital. Aldermen of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus expressed concerns during the Committee on Finance meeting that these firms lack substantial diversity in leadership.

Diversity in airport contracts

City Council developed a new commission to ensure diversity in contracts given in the upcoming multi-billion-dollar O’Hare expansion project. The project will bring an unprecedented amount of contractual business, and the work group is tasked with making sure the firms selected mirror Chicago’s diversity. The commission will look at barriers that keep firms from contributing to the projects and aid them to participate. The commission will include representatives from each department of Aviation, Procurement Services, and Law, and may also include representatives from the consultants and contractors associated with work pursuant to the New Use and Lease Agreement. It will meet quarterly.

Attempting to correct inaccurate and unfair property tax assessments

An order proposed by Alderman Rick Muñoz, 22nd Ward, during the council’s January meeting calling for the city’s Law Department to look into the property tax assessments of seven downtown properties will finally get a committee hearing after a two-month delay.

After introducing the order, Muñoz called for it to be referred to the Committee on Housing and Real Estate. Alderman Burke asked for the order to be referred to the Committee on Finance. Because of this dispute, the order was automatically referred to the Rules Committee chaired by 8th Ward Alderman Michelle Harris.

Burke’s action spurned an inquiry by the Chicago Board of Ethics for possible conflict of interest violations because his law firm, Klafter and Burke, appealed the property taxes for two of the seven properties listed on the order. The Board of Ethics ultimately cleared Alderman Burke after determining he had not read the order and was unaware that his clients were listed before asking that the matter be referred to the committee he chairs.

The order will be re-referred to the Committee on Budget and Government Operations, chaired by 34th Ward Alderman Carrie Austin. No hearing date has been set.

New leader for police oversight

A selection committee approved a new leader for the Civilian Office on Police Accountability (COPA), the police oversight group that replaced the heavily criticized Independent Police Review Authority. Sydney Roberts, who currently serves as director of the Illinois Secretary of State Police, will be replacing Sharon Fairley as the leader of COPA, who stepped down to run for Illinois attorney general. Roberts will need to be approved by City Council during the April meeting.

Banning body armor sales in the city

City Council passed measures updating Chicago’s assault weapons ban and the possession and sale of body armor. Against the backdrop of the fatal wounding of Police Commander Paul Bauer by a four-time felon wearing body armor, the committee passed an ordinance banning the sale or possession of body armor in Chicago.

Exceptions apply to active or retired peace officers; members of the United States armed forces; emergency responders; retired police officers; licensed security officers; and employees of the City of Chicago, State of Illinois, federal government, or other unit of local government when such employees are on duty and acting in their official capacities. Violators face fines between $500 and $1,000. The committee also updated the city’s assault weapons ban to include bump stocks.

More money for neighborhood program

City Council passed a $6 million increase in the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund program. The program issues grants to strengthen commercial corridors on Chicago’s south, southwest and west sides. The final selection of awardees is made by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The grant program is delegated to SomerCor 504, a not-for-profit development company. To date, $6.4 million was spent in the first and second round of the grant competition, awarding more than 60 small businesses. The increase to the fund will create smaller grants of $250,000 or less, which do not have to be approved by City Council. Larger grants will continue to be required to come to the council.

Alderman Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, asked if a process was created to show the feasibility of the businesses awarded grants. However, Aarti Kotak, first deputy commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, stated that there is no set structure to ensure an easy application process. Additionally, the grant funds may be used to acquire land, with the requirement that at the least, the grantee is in conversation to acquire the site.

Civilian police oversight

Alderman Ariel Reboyras, 30th Ward, who chairs the Committee on Public Safety, filed two proposed plans for a citizen-led oversight board for the Chicago police. Reboyras’ proposals do not give the proposed board the power to fire the superintendent but serve more as an advisory council. In contrast, Aldermen Roderick Sawyer, 6th Ward, and Harry Osterman, 48th Ward, filed an ordinance, also on Wednesday, to create a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability with publicly elected councils in each police district.

Car-sharing program

A pilot program similar to the Divvy Bike program was approved, with the name “Free-floating vehicle” program. The concept will allow car renters to pick up and drop off rental vehicles to any legal parking space in the city.

Protecting animals and children from being locked in vehicles

City Council passed an ordinance to allow police and animal care and control workers to break into vehicles that have pets locked inside. Additionally, motorists who leave children unattended in cars will face fines ranging from $300 to $1,000 per occurrence, according to a newly introduced ordinance entered into council by Alderman Burke and Alderman Margaret Laurino, 39th Ward. The proposal will hold harmless a passerby who intervenes in good faith to enter a locked vehicle, using force if necessary, if he or she believes a child’s life is in “imminent danger.” There were 42 heatstroke deaths of children in the U.S. in 2017, a 63% increase from 2015.

Peace Garden

City Council approved a Veteran’s Peace Garden that will be located on the city’s westside. Described as “a sanctuary of peace, beauty, and tranquility that creates a sense of community with veterans and residents,” the planned garden will be an oasis of calm on busy Madison Avenue (5413 W Madison).

Chicago suing Facebook

Alderman Burke and Alderman Brian Hopkins, 2nd Ward, introduced a resolution urging the City of Chicago’s Corporation Counsel to file suit against Facebook and Cambridge Analytica “for acts or omissions contributing to the 2018 Facebook data breach.”

Earlier this week, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx filed suit against both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, along with 36 other attorneys general, sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling for his company to “provide detailed information about how it uses the vast amount of data it collects, how it protects that data and what steps it takes to maintain privacy of users’ data.”

Banning sexual harassment gag orders

Aldermen Burke and Laurino introduced an ordinance prohibiting companies doing business with the City of Chicago from forcing employees to enter into any non-disclosure agreements pertaining to sexual assault or sexual harassment. Similar measures have been introduced in the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California and Washington.

The next City Council meeting will be held on April 18, 2018, at 10 a.m.