Notwithstanding the flurry of dueling press conferences that clogged the second floor of City Hall, yesterday’s meeting dragged along in predictable fashion. Alderman dedicated over an hour to resolutions of praise and then quickly approved more than 300 pieces of legislation, most of which were routine (the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee had 216 routine traffic items alone).
Mayor Emanuel’s ordinance amending the ethics code was the one of the only contentious items of the day, as some alderman used it as a springboard to resurface old pleas to merge the Office of the Legislative Inspector General (OLIG) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The OLIG is tasked with investigating aldermen, while the Inspector General polices the rest of city government.
The ordinance, which the City Council passed after about 20 minutes of discussion, tweaked several sections of the ethics code, including a provision requiring the OLIG submit evidence gathered during the course of an investigation to the Board of Ethics. When the item was discussed in committee Monday, Board of Ethics Executive Director Steve Berlin assured aldermen the changes were minor, as the underlying goal of the ordinance was to add clarity to the existing code.
But prior to the full City Council meeting, Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan sent a memo to aldermen warning them the change would “destroy the ability for citizens to make complaints without fear of retaliation and [would] have a chilling effect on potential witnesses.” This wasn’t the first time Khan accused the City of preventing him from doing his job. During last year’s budget hearings, he sued several prominent alderman claiming his annual appropriation of $354,000 makes it impossible for him to do his job.
So when Ald. Michelle Harris (8), Chairman of the Committee on Committees, Rules, Ethics, brought the item up for a vote, several aldermen asked to speak. Most demanded a formal hearing on an ordinance to eliminate Khan’s office and give Inspector General Ferguson the authority to police the City Council.
“I think it would behoove us to look at once and for all putting ourselves under the inspector general, Mr. Ferguson’s office, and put an end to all the back and forth games that we have been playing for several years,” Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) demanded, after calling the ethics ordinance a game of musical chairs.
Ald. John Arena (45) said while he would support the ordinance because it “clarifies” the scope and duties among the Board of Ethics and the two inspector generals, something would have to be done to address the “triangle” of offices tasked with enforcing the ethics code.
Ald. James Cappleman (45), Ald. Michele Smith (43), Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa(35), Ald. Joe Moore (49), Ald. Ameya Pawar (47) made similar comments.
Despite the strong words, only two aldermen, Nick Sposato (38) and Anthony Napolitano (41) voted against the ordinance. Neither of them asked to speak before the council. The only other divided roll call vote was on Ald. Matt O’Shea’s (19) ordinance to end free trash pickup at large apartment buildings. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5), whose lakefront Hyde Park residents are a key constituency, was the lone no vote. As for abstentions, Ald. Ed Burke (14) invoked Rule 14 on the vote to approve Multi-Family Revenue Bonds for the St. Edmunds’ Oasis development project. BMO Harris, a client of Ald. Burke’s law firm, will issue the bonds. Ald. Ameya Pawar (47) also abstained from approving the University of Chicago’szoning request to build a new charter school in the Woodlawn Area. His wife works for the University.
New Revenue-Generating Ordinances: A Sign of What’s To Come?
If yesterday’s City Council meeting is any indication of what’s to come, the pre-budget season will likely include several proposals to add incremental fees, fines and taxes to add much needed revenue to the city’s coffers.
With the full month of August off and the next full City Council meeting scheduled for the end of September, around the same time as Mayor Rahm Emanuel is poised to introduce his budget plan for the next fiscal year, city agencies and aldermen are rushing to find new sources of revenue.
The Mayor declined to comment on revenue generating ideas passed or proposed at Wednesday’s meeting, but at a post-Council press conference, he said he directed Alex Holt, head of the Office of Budget and Management, to schedule three separate meetings with aldermen to discuss ideas for cuts, reforms, efficiencies, and revenue. In the meantime, he says he doesn’t want to “prejudice anybody” who brings forward their own proposals. The mayor said Holt was also scheduled to meet with Inspector General Joe Ferguson Wednesday to discuss immediate reforms the city can make based on IG findings. Ferguson’s trash pickup enforcement report spurred Wednesday’s vote to end free trash pickup at apartment buildings with more than four units, a change expected to save the city $3.3 million.
Aldermen also approved ordinances requiring new permits for fire hydrant use and urban farms that want to sell their fertilizer off site, and an ordinance giving city inspectors the right to fine dry cleaners and auto shops up to $5,000 for improper use of a hazardous chemical, perchloroethylene, commonly found in industrial cleaners.
Additional revenue-generating ordinances like a new soda tax, fines for noisy neighbors and people who fly drones near Chicago airports, and a new permit for restaurants that want to set up additional seating on the street were formally introduced at yesterday’s meeting.
Ald. George Cardenas (12) is reviving his plan to create a “Chicago Sweetened-Beverage Tax”, which would be a penny-per-ounce tax on sodas and other sugary drinks. Since the item was referred to the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection, which Ald. Cardenas chairs, it shouldn’t have a hard time moving through committee.
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) is behind an amendment to the Municipal Code that would fine those who play loud music, defined as “audible above conversational level within 100 ft.”, between 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m . Starting at 8:00 p.m., the ordinance would fine $500 for violations. That fine would double at 10:00 p.m. and double again at midnight.
Northside aldermen Tom Tunney (44) and Michele Smith (43) introduced an ordinance to create a curbside cafe permit as part of a new pilot program that would run from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016. The permit would cost $100 plus the anticipated lost parking meter revenue for all affected spaces.
Ald. Burke and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) co-sponsored an ordinance that would ban drones from flying within five miles of O’Hare and Midway Airport. The ordinance would require drone operators to carry insurance and register their drones with the City’s Department of Aviation. These unmanned aircrafts would also be prohibited within a quarter mile of a school, hospital, or place of worship. Violators would face fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 per occurrence and could face up to 180 days in jail.
Mayoral Appointments to Buildings, Human Services, Police Board Approved
In addition to the items already mentioned, aldermen also approved:
- Official landmark designation for the Fulton-Randolph Market
- A ban on smartphone cases that look like guns
- Relaxed zoning restrictions for amusement arcades. These internet gaming establishments were previously restricted to areas zoned for taverns and strip malls.
- Appointments and changes to the Chicago Infrastructure Trust Board. The ordinance changes City Treasurer Kurt Summers’ status from a nonvoting advisory member to a voting member, as he was appointed Board Chairman. The Board will vote on a new Executive Director at their August 7th meeting. Mayor Emanuel has asked that they choose Leslie Darling, the First Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City’s Law Department. The other approved members of the board are listed here.
- Ben Winick as the Financial Analyst for the City’s new Independent Budget Office, and Ald. Ed Burke as Vice Chair of the City Council Committee overseeing the new office. Burke replaces Carole Brown, the city’s new Chief Financial Officer.
- Lisa Morrison Butler as the new Commissioner for the Department of Family and Supportive Services
- Lori Lightfoot as the new President of the Chicago Police Board
- Judy Frydland as the new Commissioner of the Department of Buildings
Mayoral Introduces TOD, Privatization Ordinances
Below are brief summaries of the ordinances with links to the legislation and corresponding press release. We will provide more details as the items move through committee.
Amendments to Transit Oriented Developments [O2015-5334]
The ordinance creates incentives for developers to build closer to CTA and Metra Stations by expanding the size of Transit Oriented Development Zones, removing all on-site parking requirements, and adding new affordable housing requirements by increasing the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) to 3.75 in business and commercial zoned districts (B-3;C-3) if half of the development is dedicated to affordable housing. The FAR increase would only apply to planned developments. The ordinance also adds specific distance requirements for these developments. For example, for a proposal to qualify as a TOD in a downtown zoned district (D-3), it would have to be located within a quarter mile of a CTA or METRA rail station entrance. Press Release.
Restrictions on Privatizing City Assets O2015-5434
The ordinance co-sponsored by Mayor Emanuel and Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6) puts additional hurdles in place to make sure any future privatization deal is in the city’s best interest. There aren’t any plans currently in place to lease city assets, but if the ordinance is approved, the City’s Chief Financial Officer would have to find an independent advisor to prepare a report assessing the proposed sale. That report would evaluate: (1) if selling the asset is in the best interest of the City; (2) is the contractor buying the asset was “fair and transparent; (3) if the sale price is fair. The advisor would have 90 days to complete the report before the proposed sale could go to the City Council. Once the item is introduced, the CFO would have 23 days to issue a report detailing the scope of the deal to the Council Committee, and the Chairman would have to schedule a public hearing seven days before advancing it to the full City Council. The contractor purchasing the asset would have to pay for the additional oversight provisions outlined in the ordinance. Press Release
Discussion of the ordinance took up the bulk of Mayor Emanuel’s post-Council press conference Wednesday. The Mayor said he’s following through from a campaign pledge he made to create a process to study privatization matters, using Midway privatization consideration as inspiration. He penned an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune in September 2013 about the process:
“…first, a group of outside experts should be impaneled at the start of the process to monitor each step; second, there must be a minimum 30-day review by the City Council before the project is voted upon; third, there should be a clear set of standards so the public can judge a potential partnership when it is presented; fourth, the funds should be invested in infrastructure rather than used as a plug for short-term budget holes; fifth, a true public-private partnership requires that taxpayers maintain control of the asset and share in management decisions and financial profit.”
When asked in yesterday’s press conference whether he had an “epiphany” about Ald. Sawyer’s ordinance, first introduced three years ago, the mayor laughed and circled back around to the Midway Airport process. “It pretty much follows the process I put in place as associated with Midway when the city was analyzing and studying whether there should be privatization. I put in place because of all the things that were done in and around the parking meters.”
Ordinance Defining Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Surplus [O2015-5328]
This ordinance would turn an Executive Order Mayor Emanuel issued in 2013 into law. It would require that each of the city’s 147 TIFs declare surplus funds, so that money can be dispersed to Chicago Public Schools, the City, Cook County, and other local taxing bodies. For a TIF to qualify, it must be more than three years old, have a minimum balance of $1 million, not for a single redevelopment project.
Ordinance Giving the Police Superintendent Subpoena Power [O2015-5856]
The ordinance Mayor Emanuel introduced on behalf of the Police Department gives the police superintendent and any member of his command staff the authority to issue subpoenas to “compel attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of information relevant to investigations” conducted by the department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs. The person receiving the subpoena would have seven days to comply or provide written notice objecting to the contents of the subpoena. Anyone who refuses to comply or interferes with an investigation could be fined up to $5,000 and could face up to six months in jail.
Additional Police for Public Housing Buildings [O2015-5964]
The ordinance updates an intergovernmental agreement between the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Housing Authority to allow for additional police patrol watches at “mutually determined” high-crime CHA developments. As part of this CHA Policing Strategy, CPD would be required to “regularly and routinely coordinate, cooperate and share relevant data” with various law enforcement task forces, including the FBI and DEA. The agreement also asks that CPD regularly provide CHA with detailed reports of arrests and policy activity.