Almost half of yesterday’s nearly four hour Finance Committee meeting was spent discussing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed changes to the Chicago Infrastructure Trust Board, followed by a heated debate on Ald. Will Burns’ (4) resolution requesting the state block film director Spike Lee’s application for a film production tax credit for his movie Chiraq. Chairman Ed Burke allowed discussion on Mayor Emanuel’s proposed appointments to the CIT board, but rescheduled the vote for Wednesday morning. He said the appointees to the board won’t be asked to testify at Wednesday’s meeting, since they had an opportunity to speak yesterday.
Chairman Burke also dedicated some time to discuss two pet issues: unprocessed rape test kits, and a ban on the sale and ownership of cell phone cases that look like guns. Both were approved in committee.
Ald. Joe Moreno’s (1) ordinance adding new fees for companies that hold permits to operate trash cans on public streets was deferred because Ald. Moreno was absent by the time it was brought up for discussion. Chairman Burke also wanted to more time to discuss an ordinance Ald. Tom Tunney (44) and Mayor Emanuel introduced concerning municipal depositories.
At the tail end of the meeting, the committee approved in bulk and without discussion various appointments and reappointments to nine Special Service Areas (SSAs), and an ordinance giving City Treasurer Kurt Summers authority to oversee the Public Building Commission’s investment portfolio. The PBC oversees the construction, rehab, financing and land acquisition for new and existing City owned property. The committee also approved additional funding to the Small Business Improvement Fund Program to help pay for development projects in nine Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts.
Members Present: Chairman Ed Burke (14), Joe Moreno (1), Pat Dowell (3), Will Burns (4), Leslie Hairston (5), Roderick Sawyer (6), Gregory Mitchell (7), Michelle Harris (8), Anthony Beale (9), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Marty Quinn (13), Matt O’Shea (19), Michael Zalewski (23), Danny Solis (25), Roberto Maldonado (26), Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr. (27), Jason Ervin (28), Ariel Reboyras (30), Scott Waguespack (32), Emma Mitts (37), Nick Sposato (38), Ald. Marge Laurino (39), Brendan Reilly (42), Tom Tunney (44), John Arena (45), Joe Moore (49), Debra Silverstein (50).
Others Present: Ald. Raymond Lopez (15), Ald. David Moore (17), Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24), Ald. Milly Santiago (31), Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36), State Sen. Jackie Collins, FOP President Dean Angelo.
Ordinance Amending Chicago Infrastructure Trust Board
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans last week to revamp and restructure the Chicago Infrastructure Trust Board by replacing all but one board member, Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez. The board would expand from five to seven members. Leslie Darling, First Assistant Corporation Counsel with the City’s Law Department, would oversee the revamped Trust as its Executive Director. Hers is the only appointment that doesn’t require City Council approval. Bios for the appointees are in the Mayor’s press release announcement.
While the committee will need more time to review the changes to the CIT Board before it could vote on the matter, Burke says he would allow discussion, since the mayoral appointees were already present at the meeting and he didn’t want to “impose on their time.” But instead of using the time to discuss individual appointments, aldermen were more concerned about the lack of transparency in how the board conducts business.
Newly-elected South Side Ald. David Moore (17) started that line of questioning, asking City Treasurer Kurt Summers, who Mayor Emanuel appointed the new board chair, how he thinks the CIT can help blighted communities. While infrastructure is much-needed throughout the city, Summers says a need “exists in a most compelling fashion” in the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. Addressing Moore’s concerns about transparency, Summers said South Carolina’s program might serve as a model for benchmarking and public accountability.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44) then asked Ald. Matt O’Shea (19), another appointee to the board, how the CIT plans to keep the City Council informed with new projects. Chairman Burke referred the question to the city’s new Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown. The board is required to publish annual reports, Brown said. All CIT projects require City Council approval and she would be “happy” to a answer any questions at any time. “Yes, but we approve a lot of things,” Ald. Tunney responded.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9) agreed with Ald. Tunney, suggesting the board’s first order of business should be a public report listing money spent, the types of public-private partnerships created, goals moving forward, and a ward-by-ward breakdown of investments.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6) noted that after several meetings with CIT board members, he noticed a fundraising issue and was told that staff members haven’t been paid. Brown conceded that the the organization has had challenges finding viable projects and investors, but wasn’t aware of the payroll issue.
When Mayor Emanuel first unveiled plans to create the Chicago Infrastructure Trust in 2012, he highlighted it as a way to leverage private dollars to fund “transformative” public infrastructure projects with minimal cost to the taxpayer. But CIT only has one completed project, Retrofit One, a plan to reduce building energy consumption by 20 percent. CIT’s other project to bring 4G mobile data to CTA’s underground subways is still in the works and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
Ald. Tunney noted that after looking at the resumes of the appointees he saw a lot of great finance experience but few with real estate backgrounds.
Chiraq Tax Credit Hearing
Ald. Will Burns found little support among his peers and local community leaders in his effort to block film director Spike Lee’s application for a state film production tax credit for his movie Chiraq.
Ald. Burns introduced the symbolic resolution in May, shortly after Lee announced plans to film a movie about the prevalence of gun violence on the South Side of Chicago. Prior to the public debate, Burns told the committee he wanted to “signal his displeasure” with the movie’s title because the term “Chiraq” was created by “gang bangers” and it would be inappropriate to “validate and support them.” Given the state’s current financial woes, he said it would also be wrong to give Lee a $3 million dollar tax credit for a movie putting Chicago in such poor light.
But many who signed up to testify said the debate should be about solutions preventing the prevalence of gun violence, not a movie title. As a life-long resident of Auburn Gresham, and a co-sponsor of the legislation that created the tax credit in 2008, State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) said she has yet to see any economic development in the community and thought it ironic Ald. Burns was concerned Lee’s movie would stifle growth and tourism on the South Side, saying the whole point of the tax break is to incentivize local hiring and training in film production. Since production started on Chiraq, Lee has recruited and employed nearly 3,000 movie extras, 100 crew members and 20 interns from local neighborhoods, Collins said. “We need better statistics, not semantics.”
Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr. (27) noted that as the former Chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Special Events and Cultural Affairs and the Choose Chicago Board, he understands Ald. Burns’ concerns but believes the state should give Lee a break. “I think [Lee] is on a mission and something thought-provoking is going to come out of this,” Burnett said. Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) echoed Burnett, calling it a “slippery slope” if the Council got involved in regulating movie titles. The TV show Boss, which Ald. Reilly said was “not a flattering political account” of Chicago, still netted the city $3.7 million dollars in film production tax breaks.
No one gave a more infuriated and impassioned speech on the issue than Fr. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church. “I’m almost insulted by the fact that we are discussing this…I think this is an orchestrated distraction,” Fr. Pleger said when called to testify. “Yes, Chicago should be worried,” he told Ald. Burns. “We should be worried about the image problem. We should not be worried about the title, because if the title was changed to Disneyland, we still have the same image that is portrayed on the media every day, because it is the reality of what is going on everyday. This is about lives, not a damn movie,” said the priest.
Request for Public Hearing on Untested Rape Kits Approved
The Committee approved Chairman Burke’s request to invite representatives from the Chicago Police Department and hold a public hearing on the backlog of untested rape kits in Chicago.
Burke and Budget Chairman Carrie Austin (34) testified they became aware of the issue after reading a recent USA Today article detailing a backlog of 70,000 untested rape kits across a thousand law enforcement agencies in the U.S. Burke also highlighted a U.S. Department of Justice report that found more than 400,000 rape kits are sitting in storage rooms awaiting forensic testing.
When Burke brought the item up for discussion, he said he was unsatisfied with CPD’s response to his inquiry about the city’s backlog. CPD would only reveal the number of rape kits it submits to the state for forensic testing, but could not accurately detail how many kits go untested, Burke testified. Chicago doesn’t have its own forensic lab and is required under the state’s Sexual Assault Evidence Submission Act to submit rape kits to the Illinois State Police Crime Lab for forensic testing. Since 2008, CPD collected and submitted more than 7,784 rape kits to the state lab for forensic testing, according to Burke. In 2014, CPD submitted 957 rape kits to the state, but only received results from 271 kits that same year. “This leaves a considerable gap,” Ald. Burke said, adding that the numbers get “more confusing” because returned kits were from previous years.
Sharmili Majmudar, the Executive Director of the local non-profit Rape Victims Advocates, testified that every year, roughly 600 children, women and men report being sexually assaulted in Chicago, and 80% of those alleged victims undergo a medical examination. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5) asked Majmudar what an appropriate wait time should be. Majmudar said Chicago should emulate New York’s processing timeline of six weeks to three months.
We saw in the Council cloakroom, and a CBS 2 producer reported, that the police commander responsible for the rape test kits waited the entire hearing to testify. He was never called.
Proposed Ban on Gun Replicas Approved
Aldermen advanced Chairman Burke’s ordinance banning the sale and purchase of cell phone cases modeled after handguns. Burke says he introduced the ordinance after learning how easy it is for someone order an iPhone case online that looks almost identical to a 9 millimeter handgun, “What’s even more disturbing is these smartphone cases are marketed as cool, trendy and stylish.”
President of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police Dean Angelo’s testimony included the recitation of an online product review describing the cell phone case as a “fun novelty” while also warning the consumer to “be careful where you answer your phone.” Ald. Burke concluded the presentation by having one of his staffers model one of the cases by putting it in his back pocket and waistband. “See what this looks like,” Ald. Burke told the committee, “What would the cop do if he saw this?”
SSA Appointments Approved
The Committee approved commissioners to a series of Special Service Areas, specially drawn districts in commercial areas that levy a fraction of a percent of property taxes and then use those funds for beautification and promotion of the district’s businesses. SSAs are typically administered by neighborhood chambers of commerce and directed by commissioners appointed by the Mayor. The nominees approved by the committee yesterday were:
Central Lakeview Commission – Area #17 – Link
- David L. Gassman – Realtor and one-time owner of Spin nightclub.
- Jeanne R. Saliture – Central Lake View Neighbors officer, retired flight attendant.
Clark Street-Lincoln Park Commission – Area #23 – Link
- Raeonin W. Lisenby – Manager of tween fashion store, “Frankie’s On The Park”
Clark Street Commission – Area #24 – Link
- Joseph A. Prino – General Manager at Mayne Stage.
Lincoln Avenue Commission – Area #35 – Link
- Kenneth Dotson – Angel investor in tech companies.
- Brent P. Holten – Owner, i.d. gym.
- Neer S. Patel – Import/Export company owner.
- Jeannine M. Campbell
Old Town Commission – Area #48 – Link
- Timothy K. Egan – CEO of Roseland Hospital. 2011 candidate for 43rd Ward Alderman.
- Don B. Klugman – President of media, inc.
- Dean G. Lubbat – Chef/owner of Dinotto Ristorante.
- Mark K. Proesel – Attorney
- David L. Stone