The Emanuel Administration got the approval it needs to borrow an additional $2.45 billion to pay off old debt and fund new capital projects in 2016. In a series of difficult-to-follow roll call votes at yesterday’s City Council meeting, aldermen signed off on all but one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s bond packages after last minute concessions were made from members of his administration.
But aldermen pushing a long-stalled plan to put the City’s Inspector General in charge of investigating Council members were less successful. Invoking a parliamentary procedure called “defer and publish”, two of the City Council’s most powerful aldermen blocked the IG ordinance from reaching the Council floor, adding at least another month to a years-long debate over who should be in charge of policing aldermen and their staff.
Divided Roll Call Vote on Bonds
After chipping away parts of Mayor Emanuel’s multi-billion dollar borrowing plan in committee earlier this week, aldermen that were still dissatisfied with what they called an expensive and bad deal for the city demanded and received further concessions from the mayor’s office ahead of yesterday’s meeting.
Following an agreement made Monday to slash administration’s plan to issue $1.25 billion in general obligation bonds in half, and add provision to the authorizing ordinance requiring regular briefings from the city’s Chief Financial Officer and Comptroller on how the money is spent, the Mayor’s finance team agreed to hold one of the more controversial borrowing plans for at least a month.
A plan to issue $200 million in water revenue bonds (O2015-8873) was taken off the table temporarily. Half of the borrowed money would pay the Royal Bank of Canadaan approximately $100 million penalty fee to switch older variable rate water bonds to a fixed rate. The other half would pay off the cost of borrowing that money.
According to comments Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown made to aldermen, those variable rate bonds are the last remaining variable rate bonds the city needs to convert to a fixed rate in order to complete a financial plan Mayor Emanuel announced in May. His announcement came shortly after the city’s credit rating was downgraded to junk status. So far, the city has paid out more than $250 million in termination fees to realize that plan, Brown said.
But members of the Progressive Caucus didn’t buy Brown’s argument that it was the city’s only option to address its liquidity crisis. In addition to speaking out at the committee meeting, they held a press conference the next day to voice their frustration.
According to one member of the group, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32), the night before the vote, the Caucus made a flurry of calls to their colleagues urging them to look at other less costly options, like taking the banks to court.
Authorization for the other debt packages were passed by Council, but none received unanimous support. As was the case in the bond vote last fall, one alderman, this timeCarlos Ramirez Rosa (35), asked to suspend the rules to call for a roll call vote. But with all the commotion in Council chambers, and Ald. Ed Burke’s preference to identify the each item by agenda number rather than ordinance name, some aldermen had yet to cast their vote by the time Burke finished his committee recommendations.
Despite the confusion, Aldertrack verified the following vote counts with the City Clerk’s Office:
Authority to issue up to $200 million in bonds backed by sales tax revenue (Passed: 43-2) Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) and Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41) were the two sole no votes on this bond offering, which would partially pay for the 2016 Aldermanic Menu Program. Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6) invoked Rule 14.
Authority to issue up to $650 million in general obligation bonds (Passed: 40-4)Aldermen Chris Taliaferro (29), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Gilbert Villegas(36), and Anthony Napolitano (41) voted against the plan. Sawyer again invoked Rule 14 and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) wasn’t in the chambers when it was called for a vote.
Authority to issue up to $1 billion in Midway Airport revenue bonds (Passed: 42-2) Ald. Taliaferro and Napolitano voted no. Aldermen Ed Burke (14) and Patrick Daley Thompson (11) invoked Rule 14.
Authority to issue up to $400 million in wastewater bonds (Passed: 43-2) Aldermen Taliaferro and Napolitano voted no. Ald. Villegas invoked Rule 14.
Authority to issue up to $200 million in water revenue bonds (Passed 42-2) Aldermen Taliaferro and Napolitano voted no, while Aldermen Burke and Villegas invoked Rule 14.
Ethics Reform Blocked Temporarily
Two of the City Council’s most powerful aldermen, Finance Chairman Ed Burke (14) and Budget Chairman Carrie Austin (34), blocked a vote on a long-stalled effort to put the City’s Inspector General in charge of investigating aldermen and their staff. Burke and Austin “deferred and published” the ordinance, giving themselves an extra month to either amend the plan or propose an alternative.
The merger ordinance championed by Ald. Michele Smith (43) and Ameya Pawar (47) would have eliminated the Office of the Legislative Inspector General, which is vacant after the last LIG Faisal Khan’s term expired, and put the authority of investigating aldermen in the hands of the city’s Inspector General.
Shortly after Burke blocked the vote, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40), chairman of the Council committee that has been holding on to the ordinance since it was introduced eight months ago, announced plans to create a working group to “clean up” the ordinance. To expedite the process, O’Connor asked that the rules be suspended for the immediate consideration of the working group, so it could start immediately, and, “utilize the time that we have in this hiatus during the defer and publish period to ensure that if there are any concerns or anything that needs to be done, that we will be finished and prepared to move forward on this at the next Council meeting.”
The working group will consist of six aldermen: the two co-sponsors of the IG ordinance, Ald. Smith and Pawar; Ald. Will Burns (4), who sponsored, but raised concerns about the ordinance; Ald. Joe Moore (49), a vocal supporter; Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), Chairman of the Council’s Black Caucus and a member of the Council’s Progressive Caucus; and Ald. Rick Munoz (22), another supporter and Progressive Caucus member.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, O’Connor said in addition to “cleaning up” the language of the ordinance, the working group will have the opportunity to work out any changes with the Inspector General’s office. Should the ordinance be amended in any way, it would be introduced directly in his Workforce Committee, voted on, and reported out at the next meeting of the full Council.
But one provision in the ordinance, the ability for the IG to investigate anonymous complaints, was a non-starter for a handful of aldermen who feared it would open the floodgates to a flurry of unfounded allegations. It was a particularly sticky issue for Ald. Austin, who after the meeting said she wants a provision added requiring signed affidavits for all complaints. “If you gonna tell on me, how come you don’t want to swear to it?” she asked rhetorically, before adding, “That don’t mean that everybody needs to know you are the one who said it, but you need to stand behind what you say.”
Before the plan was tabled, it had 27 co-sponsors. Following Burke’s action, it gained 12 more sponsors, according to Ald. Smith.
Other Highlights, Introductions from Yesterday’s Meeting
Sharon Fairley’s appointment as Administrator of Independent Police Review Authority passed with little fanfare. It is common for aldermen to spend a significant amount of time praising the Mayor and congratulating his appointee, especially those being placed in executive roles. But after her fumbled four hour first encounter with aldermen during a Council hearing on police accountability last month, and her subsequent confirmation hearing earlier this week, aldermen had little interest in expounding. When Ald. Ariel Reboyras (31), Chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, brought Fairley’s appointment up for consideration, he gave a brief overview and opened up the floor for discussion. Only one alderman, Willie Cochran (20), stood up to speak. Giving more of a warning than praise, he reminded Fairley the stakes couldn’t be higher. “You will be playing a major role in how we turn this trust issue for the Independent Police Review Authority and the public around.”
Aldermen carved out some time to give an emotional tribute to Ald. Roberto Maldonado’s (26) late wife. The meeting opened on a somber note with a reading of a Council resolution honoring Nancy Maldonado, who died over the the Christmas holiday, less than a month after Maldonado’s mother passed away. Yesterday would have been her 46th birthday. Rehashing painful memories of their own losses and recalling Nancy’s history of community activism, aldermen stood up one by one to pay their respects to Ald. Maldonado and his sons, who joined him at the front of the room. “I lost my mother at the age of 15. It was the most profoundly painful experience I went through,” an emotionalJoe Moore (49) recalled. “I cannot imagine when the two most important women in our lives, our mother and our wife, pass away, the type of hurt that can be,”Ald. Danny Solis (25) said. After nearly a dozen aldermen offered their condolences, Maldonado, unable to fight back his tears, had the last word, before Mayor Emanuel called for a moment of silence, hugged Maldonado and his family and escorted them out of the Council chambers.
Among three other introductions aimed at criminal justice reform, Ald. Jason Ervin (28) introduced an item pushing Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Julie Morita to make swift changes in staffing, managed care, and outreach from the city’s “underutilized” mental health clinics. The ordinance has 29 co-sponsors. [Early draft here] It calls for Morita to “take whatever steps are necessary to ensure adequate staffing of psychiatrists at city mental health centers within four months,” begin managed care contracts to provide services to Medicaid patients within six months, and increase awareness of the city’s mental health resources in communities disproportionately impacted by violence. Morita would also be required to update aldermen monthly on the status of changes.
Mayor Emanuel introduced a resolution yesterday appointing Blake Sercye as the new Chairman of the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Sercye was just appointed to the board over the summer. Sercye, a litigator for corporate law firmJenner & Block, also runs a pro-bono practice in the Austin neighborhood that focuses on fair housing, prisoner rights and criminal defense. He was appointed to ZBA shortly after his unsuccessful run in 2014 for a seat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. He lost the race despite high profile endorsements from Mayor Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. He has served on the Illinois Medical District Commission and Chicago’sCommunity Development Commission. ZBA’s current Chairman, Jonathan Swain, has held the position since 2010, but will leave the post to take a job at the Board of Elections. He’ll replace Langdon Neal on the three-member board tasked with running, monitoring, and authenticating election results. Mayor Emanuel is asking the council to appoint Amanda Williams to fill the vacancy left by Swain. Williams is an Auburn-Gresham native and adjunct professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Design.
Aldermen introduced a handful of police-related ordinances aimed at reforming the embattled department. Ald. Jason Ervin (28) sponsored three of those plans, including a proposal to create a section in the municipal code detailing how video recordings should be released, guidelines for how to train officers to use tasers, and a change to the mandatory retirement age. A resolution introduced by Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6) calls on CPD to “adopt a policy to establish research and institute procedures on [the] department’s over-reliance of use of lethal force.” A shorter and more pointedly worded order Ald. Rick Munoz (22) introduced makes one request, “ORDERED, that no documents currently in the possession of or hereafter created by and/or maintained by any office within the Chicago Police Department be destroyed for any purpose or under color of any statute between the introduction of this Order and December 31.” More than half the council signed on to co-sponsor.
The twin, 60-story, corncob-shaped Marina City residential Loop high rises could soon become landmarks under an ordinance the Mayor introduced yesterday on behalf of the Department of Planning and Development. The Commission on Chicago Landmarks made their preliminary recommendation in November to designate the two buildings as official landmarks. The issue has been referred to the Zoning Committee.