Activists Score Important Win vs. Chicago City Council
Dec. 21, 2016 – Late yesterday a Cook County Judge ruled that the Chicago City Council violated Illinois’s Open Meetings Act (OMA) by refusing to allow members of the public to testify at its meetings in accordance with the Act.
Judge Diane Larson issued her order in response to activists Andy Thayer’s and Rick Garcia’s July 25th motion for a preliminary injunction to force the Chicago to follow the OMA after the general public was largely barred from attending and testifying at both the May 18 and June 22 meetings of the City Council.
Thayer and other advocates for rights of the homeless had attempted to attend May meeting to protest the impending passage of a $15.8 million TIF giveaway of city funds to help build a luxury high-rise residences on the lakefront, just yards away from homeless “tent cities” underneath the Lake Shore Drive viaducts.
The activists from the Uptown Tent City Organizers and North Side Action 4 Justice groups contended that the Council and the ward’s Alderman James Cappleman were rushing through the TIF ordinance so as to beat a July deadline under which it and all other future developments using city funds would be required to set aside significantly higher resources for affordable housing units. At the June Council meeting, Alderman Ed Burke noted "there is an urgency to this matter," according to the minutes of the meeting (01:16:37).
While yesterday’s ruling covered just part of the activists’ July 25th motion, a final ruling on the suit as whole, if the City is found guilty of violating the OMA, could invalidate all final decisions made by the Council at its May 18 and June 22 meetings, including the $15.8 million TIF ordinance for luxury housing finally passed at the June meeting. 5 ILCS 120/3, Sec. 3(c)
Yesterday’s ruling covered the activists’ contention that, to quote the OMA, “Any person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body,” and that the Council’s actions violated the Act (5 ILCS 120/2.06, subsection g).
“While this is just round #1 in this suit, it is a crucial victory not only for affordable housing advocates, but for everyone in this City who has a beef with City Hall,” said Thayer. “Over the past few years we’ve seen the City Council pass a series of deeply unpopular measures, from phony reforms that don’t really reform the police, to a whole series of increased taxes targeting mostly poor and moderate income people, increasing the chasm between the rich and the rest of us. Mayor Emanuel and the Aldermen are able to ram through these regressive measures in part because they concoct their Council meetings in way where no visible opposition is allowed.”
“We know that approximately 25% of the homeless identify as LGBTQ. For our gay alderman to be pushing city tax dollars to fund luxury housing rather than housing for the homeless is absolutely unconscionable,” said Garcia. “When I heard that affordable housing advocates had been barred from the City Council meeting as I had been, I enthusiastically agreed to become a co-plaintiff. Yesterday’s decision by our judge was a breath of fresh air in a city polity that is too often skewed to the rich and powerful.”