Monday Hearing May Force City Council to Stop Violating Open Meetings Act

Originally posted October 21, 2016

Judge to hear arguments on motion for injunction to force City’s immediate compliance, could make decision at end of hearing
CHICAGO – A Cook County Judge will hear arguments Monday for an injunction against the Chicago City Council to force its immediate compliance with the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The hearing will take place at 10:30 AM, Monday, October 24 in Courtroom 2405 of the Daley Center, Courtroom 2405. 
The hearing, originally scheduled for this past Wednesday, was re-scheduled due to what was described to us as “a court emergency.”
Longtime activists Andy Thayer and Rick Garcia filed suit in July alleging that the Chicago City Council violates the Illinois Open Meetings Act by barring the public from its meetings and not permitting public comment at them.
Their suit arose out of the City Council rushing through a notorious $15.8 million TIF subsidy for a luxury high-rise development in the Uptown neighborhood, just yards away from homeless encampments underneath Lake Shore Drive viaducts – people whom the activists say need housing help far more than the politically-connected developer of the luxury high-rise.
The timing of the rushed vote for TIF subsidy was no accident, say the activists. It was passed just before the new Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO) took effect this July. Unlike the old ARO requiring just 5% affordable units in TIF-supported developments, the new ARO requires that they have at least 20% affordable units. Indeed, 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).
In apparent response to the suit which complained of no members of the general public being allowed entrance at the start of the May and June meetings, in July, the City Council instituted a new policy allowing just 30 seats in the gallery for the general public, reserving the 282 remaining seats for its chosen attendees. This, despite the “Defendant conced[ing] that almost every CITY COUNCIL meeting has lines over 50 people long…[and] that it has lines over 100 people long multiple times a year and has had at least one line 200 people long,” according to a plaintiffs’ filing. Indeed, “giving [any] preferential admission to certain groups of people violates the OMA.”
While Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pledged “the most open, accountable, and transparent government that the City of Chicago has ever seen,” activists with decades of experience in attending City Council meetings note that under Mayor Emanuel, the council meetings are even less accessible than under Richard M. Daley. 
The Open Meetings Act states that “[C]itizens shall be given advance notice of and the right to attend all meetings at which any business of a public body is discussed or acted upon in any way… The provisions for exceptions to the open meeting requirements shall be strictly construed against closed meetings.” 5 ILCS 120, Sec. 1
From mass school closures, to TIF subsidies for the wealthy, to a long series of regressive taxes, the City Council and Mayor Emanuel are able to get away with these wildly unpopular measures in part because they bar the public from attending, let alone testifying at City Council meetings. With a hand-picked audience in the Council gallery, they manufacture the illusion of popular support for their unpopular measures.
A copy of the suit and the amended motion for the preliminary injunction can be found here and here.

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