First posted January 18, 2017
Lawyers for activists who last year filed an Open Meetings Act lawsuit against the Chicago City Council, yesterday moved for the court to quash a City Council vote last June that approved a notorious TIF subsidy for luxury hi-rises in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.
The City Council approved the Montrose-Clarendon $15.8 million TIF subsidy for luxury housing on prime lakefront property despite numerous protests by many who saw it as an insulting expenditure of taxpayer dollars while homeless literally shivered underneath Lake Shore Drive viaducts just yards away. Several advisory referendums in the ward had also opposed the use of TIF funds such purposes.
After months of testimony and document releases, today’s motion noted that “It is undisputed that not a single member of the public waiting in line without a preferential seat reservation was able to attend the June 22, 2016 CITY COUNCIL meeting [that voted to approve the TIF subsidy] until hours after it started…. This is a violation of the plain text and ‘express purpose’ of the Open Meetings Act and necessitates declaring the vote null and void pursuant to OMA Section 3(c).”
In the event that the City attempts to appeal a favorable ruling by the Court on today’s motion, it notes that “As the Appellate Court noted, where OMA’s purpose ‘is undermined by non-compliance with its provisions,’ a public body’s actions ‘will’ be declared null and void. Id. (emphasis added). The ‘express purpose of [OMA] is to require public bodies to deliberate and act openly.’ Here, CITY COUNCIL violated OMA’s ‘express purpose’ and took final action by voting on the TIF provision when not a single member of the public without a seat reservation was allowed in. As a result, this vote should be declared null and void.”
On December 20, Judge Diane Larsen ruled that the Chicago City Council violated Illinois’s Open Meetings Act (OMA) by refusing to allow members of the public to testify at its meetings in accordance with the Act. Larsen issued her order in response to activists Andy Thayer’s and Rick Garcia’s July 25th motion for a preliminary injunction to force the Chicago City Council to follow the OMA after the general public was largely barred from attending and testifying at both the May 18 and June 22 meetings of the City Council. The City has said it will appeal that ruling.
Affordable housing activists from the Uptown Tent City Organizers and North Side Action 4 Justice groups contend that the Council and the ward’s Alderman James Cappleman rushed through the $15.8 million TIF ordinance at the Council’s June meeting so as to beat a July deadline under which it and all other future developments using city funds would be required to set aside significantly higher resources for affordable housing units. At the June Council meeting, Alderman Ed Burke noted “there is an urgency to this matter,” according to the minutes of the meeting (01:16:37).
“The City should cut to the chase and admit that barring the general public from Council meetings is indefensible under the Open Meetings Act,” said co-plaintiff Andy Thayer. “Mayor Emanuel and Alderman Cappleman should stop wasting public tax dollars on fruitless actions by city attorneys and handouts to politically connected luxury developers, and instead spend that money on housing the homeless.”