Concerns over minority hiring at the Department of Aviation and by its outside contractors almost derailed a $3.5 billion bond offering that will help fund a new runway and upgrades to Terminal 5, in addition to paying off old bond debt.
The ordinance authorizing the bond deal narrowly passed the full City Council Wednesday in a 26-21 vote. Every member of the Council’s Black Caucus–save for Caucus Chair Rod Sawyer (6) who abstained from voting under provisions of Rule 14–voted against the bond deal. Several Latino and Progressive Caucus members also voted against the package. The Department of Aviation is expected to offer the bonds in three separate rounds in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Prior to the vote, Ald. Pat Dowell (3), who has lately been a staunch critic of the the Aviation Department’s minority hiring practices, called the department’s African-American employment and contracting numbers “appalling, alarming, and disturbing.”
Similar concerns were raised in Finance Committee last week, when the Black Caucus temporarily blocked the deal from advancing to the full City Council. Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans has since agreed to brief the Caucus on its minority hiring activity on a quarterly basis. She also provided the Caucus a significant amount of information on its minority contracting numbers and department staff over the past year.
But those promises didn’t sway some. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5), who is a member of both the Black and Progressive Caucus, echoed Dowell’s frustration during her testimony on the Council floor, saying she was “tired of hearing departments saying they’re going to do better next time.” She also asked to be recorded as voting no.
“Enough is enough,” said Hairston. “If we don’t stand up now, they’re going to continue to do the same thing and give us a different story. I’ve heard this story too many times and I am not buying it.”
It wasn’t until a third alderman and Black Caucus member Emma Mitts (37), asked to be recorded as voting no, that Ald. Burke decided to motion for a roll call.
No votes: Pat Dowell (3), Sophia King (4), Leslie Hairston (5), Gregory Mitchell (7), Michelle Harris (8), Anthony Beale (9), Sue Sadlowski-Garza (10), Toni Foulkes (16), David Moore (17), Derrick Curtis (18), Willie Cochran (20), Howard Brookins (21), Michael Scott, Jr. (24), Walter Burnett (27), Jason Ervin (28), Chris Taliaferro (29), Milly Santiago (31), Scott Waguespack (32), Deb Mell (33), Carrie Austin (34), Emma Mitts (37).
Rule 14 Abstentions: Sawyer (6), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Ed Burke (14).
The move could be interpreted as the beginnings of a new coalition of Black, Latino and Progressive Caucus aldermen banning together as a counterweight to the administration. In fact, the chairs of the three caucuses–Ald. Sawyer (6-Black Caucus), Ald. Scott Waguespack (32-Progressive Caucus), and Ald. George Cardenas (12-Latino Caucus)–jointly introduced a resolution at yesterday’s Council meeting calling on the state legislature to pass a so-called “LaSalle Street Tax”. The city doesn’t have the authority to do so on its own. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has long opposed the tax on transactions by the city’s financial institutions, including the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade.
Members of the Black Caucus also introduced a resolution calling for the Department of Finance to hold hearings “concerning minority recruiting and employment practices of companies doing business with the city,” in addition to calling on the Council’s Committee on Public Safety to hold hearings to “consider causes and resolutions to disproportionate number of black victims in missing person cases and other crimes.”
Speaking with reporters after the City Council meeting, Mayor Emanuel dismissed such an interpretation, saying he understands and agrees with the Black Caucus’ demands.
“I don’t see it that way. I take it seriously because I actually believe in the earnestness of their principle,” responded Mayor Emanuel.
“I take their issues very seriously on a series of things as it relates to minority and women-owned businesses,” Mayor Emanuel added. “I talked to the [Aviation] Commissioner over the weekend and told her she had some work to do, because I respect the principle on what the aldermen were saying.”
The Department of Aviation did not respond to a request for comment.
Water-Sewer Tax (Passed 40-10)
The roll call vote on the new graduated water-sewer tax was less dramatic. In fact, when Finance Chair Ed Burke (14) brought it up for consideration and opened the floor to his colleagues for comment, no one raised their hand. There was no debate or discussion, save for closing remarks by Burke and Mayor Emanuel (who was interrupted during his speech by a priest in the gallery from the Community Renewal Society who demanded the same passion from the Mayor on the topic of police reform).
Both framed the vote as a historic moment that changed the course of the city’s financial history. All of the revenue raised from the new tax, which will start in 2017 and ramp up over five years, will help pay down the liabilities of the city’s largest pension fund, the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago (MEABF). With liabilities around $18.6 billion, the fund would have run out of money in ten years, forcing the city to adopt a pay-as-you-go model, which would have meant annual payments of over a billion dollars a year.
Without the tax, said Mayor Emanuel, “Not only would the fund have been insolvent, the city of Chicago’s finances would have been drawn with it.”
“I think there is one thing that we can all agree upon, and that is that it is absolutely incumbent upon the city of Chicago to shore up the [MEABF] fund. We simply cannot saddle Chicago residents with another property tax increase,” said Ald. Burke. “It sets the stage to turn a page in the city’s financial history. A graduated utility tax increase on water over the next several years is the alternative that makes the most sense and is in the best interest of the city and its pension fund members.”
The new water-sewer tax would apply for all billing periods starting on and after January 1, 2017. The tax rate is per 1,000 gallons of water used. The amended funding schedule for the MEABF pension fund will come in the form of a state bill that is scheduled to be introduced in Springfield this fall during the veto session.
The following is a breakdown of the water-sewer tax for the median metered and unmetered residential accounts (from the city’s Budget Office):
The water-sewer tax passed 40-10, with Ald. David Moore (17) requesting a roll call.
No votes on water-sewer tax: Ald. Leslie Hairston (5), Ald. Sue Sadlowski-Garza (10), Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Ald. Toni Foulkes (16), Ald. David Moore (17), Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29), Ald. Scott Waguespack (32), Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36), Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41), Ald. John Arena (45).
Other Divided Roll Call Votes
- Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41) votes no on one legal settlement: The former police officer and freshman alderman voted against the largest settlement before the City Council yesterday: a $1.375 million pay-out to Rachel Brown on behalf of Eugene Ratliff, who was killed during a police car chase in 2013. Napolitano told The Daily Line that he voted against the settlement because he was told that the offender who started the police chase, Dorian Williams, had crashed into the Ratliff and two other bystanders when the officers finally caught up to him. “We were told after multiple traffic violations the police tried to pull over the offender. The offender fled the scene at a high rate of speed. When the police officers got up to the crash scene the offender had already struck an innocent bystander, it was then reported after the crash that the vehicle was stolen.”
- Two Votes Against TIF Assistance for New South Loop Elementary School: Ald. David Moore (17) and Ald. John Arena (45) voted against an ordinance that would provide $11 million in tax increment financing (TIF) assistance to help fund a new elementary school for up to 1,200 students in the South Loop. The TIF funds would reimburse the Board of Education for the land acquisition, site demolition, remediation, designs and other costs associated with the new school planned for the corner of 16th and Dearborn. In a press release from the Mayor’s Office, local Ald. Pat Dowell (3) said the school would help “alleviate overcrowding” at South Loop Elementary School (1212 S. Plymouth Court). The entire project is estimated to cost $55 million. “Ald. Arena voted against the TIF deal because he remains deeply concerned about the funding inequities in our school system and the disparities in the allocation of TIF dollars,” said Arena’s Chief of Staff Owen Brugh.
Notable Introductions from Wednesday’s Meeting: Spreadsheet
(The text for most of the ordinances weren’t posted by the end of business yesterday. We’ll have a more comprehensive roundup of some of these items next week.)