Plaintiffs Andy Thayer and Rick Garcia filed a lawsuit against the Chicago City Council demanding that it abide by the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA).
The recently filed lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to force the city to abide by the act at its next meeting scheduled for Sept. 14.
Plaintiffs allege in their suit that the City Council violates the OMA by preventing members of the general public from attending Council meetings by packing the gallery and giving privileged entry to invited guests — who mostly or entirely fill the Council chambers — despite showing up much later than members of the general public, effectively making the meetings closed.
The OMA states: “The provisions for exceptions to the open meeting requirements shall be strictly construed against closed meetings.”
Plaintiffs Thayer and Garcia further allege that the Council also violates the OMA by allowing no provision for public comment at Council meetings – “Any person shall be permitted an opportunity to address public officials under the rules established and recorded by the public body.” (5 ILCS 120/2.06, subsection g)
On May 18, Thayer and several other activists tried to enter the Council meeting to witness debate and votes on a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) bill which, according the plaintiffs, would funnel $16 million in taxpayer money to subsidize a private developer to erect luxury high-rise towers on prime real estate next to Lincoln Park. The luxury Uptown development would be within yards of many homeless people sleeping underneath Lake Shore Drive viaducts who desperately need affordable housing alternatives.
The anti-TIF activists, despite arriving an hour and half before the scheduled start of the May 18 meeting, were not allowed to begin entering the Council meeting until an hour after it was scheduled to begin. At that time a handful were allowed to enter, with several other activists who had lined up early attempting to attend the meeting.
As Ald. Edward Burke, the politically connected, powerful chairman of the City Council Finance Committee put it at the May 18 Council meeting, “This (TIF) is an urgent matter we need to rush through.” According the plaintiffs, the reason for their rush is that on July 23, the 2015 Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO) would take effect, forcing all TIF-funded developments to have a minimum of 20 percent affordable housing units. The Uptown TIF development has under 3 percent affordable units, less than even the 5 percent required under the old ARO ordinance.
If the judge finds that the City Council meetings violated the OMA, she could penalize the city for its breaking of the law by invalidating all of the decisions made at the meetings covered by the suit, the May and June Council meetings, including the unpopular Uptown TIF subsidy for luxury housing. “The court … may grant such relief as it deems appropriate, including . . . declaring null and void any final action taken at a closed meeting in violation of this act.” (5 ILCS 120/3, Sec. 3(c))
“The Illinois Open Meetings Act requires that public bodies, of which the Chicago City Council is the most powerful in the state governed by the act, to maintain access to the public, including the right to attend and comment on their proceedings,” said co-plaintiff Andy Thayer.
TIFs, which were created under Harold Washington in 1986, were designed to stimulate economic development in blighted inner-city areas. Judge Diane J. Larsen said she will hold a hearing on the motion for the injunction two days before the next Council meeting. Judge Larsen’s hearing will be held at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 12 at the Daley Center, 50 W. Washington Street, Room 2405.
“All those interested in fairness in government should attend this hearing,” says Rick Garcia. “I’ve been going to City Council meetings since 1986 and have never seen anything like this before.” A win for this case is a win for all low-income communities across the city.
The Chicago Defender wrote about this issue in a recently published story, click here http://chicagodefender.com/2016/07/27/chicago-is-not-broke-says-experts/
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This story was last updated on 8/9/16