Two long-brewing topics, Chicago school debt and police reform got a little bit more tangled this week as Chicago Public School officials skipped out on a Council hearing and Chicago police officers elected a new union president who promised to fight “the anti-police movement in the city.”
But first, a request: If you enjoy our emails, we bet you know someone else who would like them too. Maybe you know two or three people. Please forward this on, and let your friends know they can get lots of great Daily Line goodness by joining our free email list here. You get one good Karma Point™ for each person you refer.
CPS Won’t Show For Council
Last week, City Council’s Education Committee attempted to hold a hearing on Chicago Public School finances. Even though it was the committee’s first scheduled meeting since August of last year, nobody from CPS showed up, causing one aldermanic staffer to claim the absences were, “because the district is on spring break.”
Alderman Rick Muñoz (22), a member of the committee, didn’t take too kindly to CPS ignoring him. He said district leadership has been unreliable when it comes to revealing their finances, saying that “One day, they say they’re $200 million short, another day they’ll say they’re $250 [million] short, another day they’ll say they’re $130 [million] short. Million. We’re talking about a lot of money. And the difference is huge.”
But City Council literally has no authority over CPS, since the general assembly restructured CPS in 1995, giving the mayor total authority over selecting the school board, as well as unlimited power over the school budget and bonding. Council has no oversight powers whatsoever. So why would CPS leaders show up for a Council hearing?
I asked Muñoz this question Thursday. “It’s because they’re going to need us later. We’re going to have to pay for everything,” he said. On Tuesday, in fact, Ald. George Cardenas’ (12) Chicago Public Education Revitalization Ordinance–creating an official mechanism for the city to direct all surplus TIF money to CPS–is on the Finance Committee agenda. He’s said a TIF surplus could “conservatively provide the school district $100-150M to help address the current crisis.”
CPS still needs to fill a $215 million gap–at least that’s the last number CPS provided in January–or else schools will close three weeks early in May. It doesn’t look like the state legislature will get the funds past Gov. Bruce Rauner. So, that leaves Chicago City Council on the hook.
But if CPS leaders even show up for a Council meeting, Mayor Rahm Emanuel might as well hoist a big white flag for everyone in Springfield. The message would be clear: “We’re giving up on state money, we’re just going to pay for everything ourselves!”
Gov. Rauner could declare victory: His obstinace made Chicagoans pay their own bills. Nevermind that the rest of the state’s schools were getting a proportionately larger state subsidy, but that’s politics.
Mayor Emanuel and his Springfield allies have to keep up the hope that as CPS’ May doomsday draws closer, pressure will mount to do a deal in the statehouse. So, Emanuel and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool are saying as little as they can about alternative solutions, while continuing to bang on the table, demanding a statehouse solution.
But in Muñoz’s mind, this is all window dressing. He figures that it’s a done deal that aldermen will to have to vote for another tax hike to pay for CPS. Expect more aldermen to get agitated in the coming weeks as they work out the political math for themselves.
The Growing Rift Between Cops And The Black Community
Everyone knows that Chicago has a crime problem, but there are two opposing camps about the cause and what to do about it. One group believes Chicago has an enforcement problem, that if more bad guys were thrown in jail, then the criminal-minded would choose not to do criminal acts, bringing peace to the city of Chicago.
Another group sees the problem as socioeconomic, starting with a lack of opportunity, and compounded by overly-aggressive policing that divides society into criminals vs. non-criminals. This arbitrary sorting out forces many otherwise good people into a lifelong “criminal” label because of one or two bad decisions.
While this is a broad characterization, and there are many nuances in between, the two different frame references essentially define the divide between Chicago’s police union leadership and its black community. Like pro-life versus pro-choice advocates, the two groups have such different worldviews, they believe compromise is not possible, only domination of one over the other.
Everything to this point has been a prelude: The Department of Justice and Police Accountability Task Force reports were just pieces of paper. Then, Donald Trump’s election made a federal consent decree a non-starter: The feds won’t force police to make changes. Instead, Mayor Emanuel has made incremental changes on the margins of police reform, addressing training and starting a long process to revamp police oversight, but the thorniest problems reside in the police union’s contract with the city.
Under another presidential administration, the Fraternal Order of Police could expect the Department of Justice to force their contract negotiations to court, if there weren’t enough big changes, but under President Donald Trump, the FOP has been emboldened.
Two items in the police contract are under particular fire. From our story on the DOJ report in January:
Requiring a signed and sworn affidavit to file a misconduct allegation against a police officer undercuts accountability. And even though the FOP contract allows for an “override”, Independent Police Review Authority investigators told DOJ it’s not encouraged and they weren’t trained on the procedure. Override was used only 17 times in the last 5 years. And of the approximately 2,400 complaints submitted a year, 40% are closed because they lack a signed affidavit. “Collectively, through this patchwork of policies and practices, the City fails to conduct any meaningful investigation of nearly half of the complaints made against officers.”
The FOP contract fosters collusion among officers. The report explicitly states that the level of “witness coaching” by union attorneys for police officers is unprecedented in DOJ’s history of conducting these types of investigations. “We have not identified any other agency that permits witness coaching to occur in the very presence of investigators, much less requires those investigators to cooperate with others in the room to conceal such efforts from the tape recorder and omit any mention of them in the investigative file. At CPD, however, the practice is institutionalized, with IPRA investigators often starting their interviews by inviting officers to use a hand signal if they want the investigator to turn off the tape recorder. Under the FOP contract, officers are allowed to have an attorney present, which is usually a lawyer provided by the union, when they are being interviewed for an investigation. Usually, the same attorney will represent all the officers involved, making collusion not only easy, but common practice.
On Wednesday, FOP members elected a new union president, Kevin Graham, who pledges to oppose these reform efforts. In an interview on WGN-TV Thursday, Graham specifically mentioned the two above issues, promising to fight for them.
Then, on Thursday, the City Council Black Caucus held a press conference, joined by county, state and federal black elected officials. Caucus leader Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6) promised that “The 18-member Black Caucus is committed to voting no on this contract if these recommendations are not publicly supported in the negotiation between the administration and the FOP,” and then they too, specifically mentioned the two above points.
As we reported in our Neighborhood Perspective series in January, there is a widespread demand for police reform in Chicago’s black community, and black leaders of all levels are cynical when asked if they believe Mayor Emanuel will be able to deliver. Meanwhile, voters in Chicago’s Northwest and Southwest Side neighborhoods share their neighborhoods with cops, and tend to share their worldviews.
Because the two communities have such divergent views, Mayor Emanuel will have to carefully negotiate this tricky political situation if he wants to remain mayor after 2019.