Chicago’s first City Council meeting of 2022 on Wednesday could set the stage for intense debate on a series of controversial police misconduct settlements as well as a pair of long-stalled proposals to reverse a 2021 speeding crackdown and give the council its own legal representation.
The council is set to give a final stamp of approval to a $14 million settlement to end two separate lawsuits brought by Corey Batchelor and Kevin Bailey, who served a combined 43 years in prison based on a conviction that was later overturned due to new DNA evidence that exonerated them.
The men were convicted in the 1989 murder of a retired Chicago police officer’s wife. But the men later filed claims with the Illinois Torture and Relief Inquiry Commission, which had been established to investigate convictions that resulted from disgraced Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, alleging that their convictions were based on forced confessions. As a result, their convictions were vacated in 2018.
The $14 million payout represents a significant chunk of the $82 million the Chicago Police Department was budgeted for total legal settlement and judgment costs in 2022. Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2019 created a Chief Risk Officer position to help tamp down settlement costs, but the post has been empty since Tamika Puckett departed in 2020.
The Batchelor and Bailey settlement cleared the City Council Committee on Finance in a unanimous vote on Monday. But two other, smaller settlements passed on narrow margins and a third was defeated, setting up potential fireworks when they reach the full council on Wednesday.
The finance committee voted 15-13 to advance a $425,000 payment to settle a lawsuit brought by Dejuan Harris, who was shot by police under disputed circumstances in 2016. And committee members voted 17-9 to approve a $115,000 settlement in the lawsuit brought by two brothers who were arrested in 2018 on gun charges that were later dropped.
But the committee deadlocked in a 13-13 vote on whether to approve a $125,000 settlement to end a lawsuit brought by Lenora Bonds, whose son was shot to death by Chicago police in 2013. City Council rules spell defeat for any motion that ends in a tie vote, meaning the committee will report a “do not pass” recommendation to the full City Council during its meeting on Wednesday.
Bonds’ 2016 lawsuit centered on the death of her son, Terrence Harris, who was “suffering a mental health related episode” in 2013 when Bonds called 911, according to Chicago Deputy Corporation Counsel Victoria Benson. When one police sergeant responded to the call at Bonds’ home, Harris stabbed him in the face with a knife. The sergeant sought medical attention and Bonds left the house.
Afterward, three police officers went inside the house and saw Harris wielding two knives. The officers then shot at Harris 32 times, hitting him 29 times and killing him.
Bonds did not allege excessive force against the officers in her lawsuit, but rather she sued the city for its lack of crisis intervention training of police officers at the time of the shooting, according to Benson. The first police sergeant who arrived at the scene was trained to manage mental health crises, but the three officers who subsequently shot Harris to death were not.
The City Council may vote on Wednesday to reverse the committee’s recommendation and approve the Bonds settlement. Benson warned Monday that if the case goes to trial, the city could be forced to spend upwards of $100,000 on “document discovery alone.”
But a growing number of pro-police aldermen have grown increasingly defiant against a range of police misconduct settlements, saying city attorneys should be taking more cases to trial to ward off frivolous lawsuits.
“If we’re opening these floodgates for people, no matter how small [the settlements] are, this is going to continue to happen,” Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38) said Monday. “It’s going to continue to cost us money.”
Beale looks to force votes on stalled ordinances, again
Ald. Anthony Beale (9) filed a Rule 41 notice last week in his latest attempt to force votes on two of his proposals that have stalled for months: a proposal (O2021-2901) to establish an independent legal counsel for the City Council and an ordinance (O2021-1227) that would reverse the city’s 2021 move to impose speed camera violations for people who drive more than 6 mph over the speed limit near schools and parks.
Beale was stymied when he tried a similar maneuver in September to force up-or-down votes on both ordinances. Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) quashed the effort on procedural grounds, saying Beale had failed to file his Rule 41 notice with the required five days’ notice.
Beale got a partial reprieve in October, when the City Council Committee on Committees and Rules re-referred both measures to their originally intended committees. But Reilly struck again at the next City Council meeting, joining Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30) to defer and publish both items.
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Beale reacted by sending dozens of new ordinances to the rules committee, but Reilly moved to suspend the rules to undo his action — a counter-maneuver that Beale called “illegal” but was quickly approved by Lightfoot.
Ald. Michelle Harris (8), who chairs the rules committee, filed a Rule 41 notice on Monday to finish the job of re-referring both ordinances out of her committee. But Harris did not file her notice five days in advance, leaving them vulnerable to a similar procedural challenge.
Harris did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. But Beale told The Daily Line that he interpreted Harris’ notice as a counter-maneuver to block a direct vote on his ordinances.
“I’m hoping that my colleagues are finally fed up with the administration manipulating the rules and not abiding by the rules,” Beale said Tuesday. “Most of my colleagues are in agreement that we need our own corporation counsel, we need our own parliamentarian, because this administration consistently changes the rules — and that’s a problem.”
Beale said he will “absolutely” move again to send new ordinances to the rules committee if his ordinances are sidelined again on Wednesday.
“You can’t have it both ways — in politics, it’s a give-and-take,” Beale said. “You can’t just continue to get whatever you want, and then when we try to bring ordinances to the floor, we can’t even get them heard.”
“That’s not a democracy — that’s dictatorship,” he added.
A spokesperson for Lightfoot did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Emergency procurement rules set for final vote
Wednesday is also set to see the return of a controversial proposal Lightfoot offered last month that would have granted emergency powers to Chicago’s Chief Procurement Officer Aileen Velazquez.
The measure (SO2021-5647), which proposes to allow the procurement officer to make emergency payments of up to $1 million without City Council approval, faced significant pushback in committee when aldermen cited the proposal for taking away their control over contracting decisions. Aldermen also said they were not given enough information about the proposal ahead of a scheduled vote.
The budget committee ultimately advanced the measure in a unanimous vote after officials added a sunset provision to the emergency powers. But Beale and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) deferred and published the ordinance at the Dec. 15 meeting, delaying the vote by a month.
Lightfoot said last month that she signed an executive order allowing Velasquez to “quickly secure supplies that are essential to preserve the public health and safety in the city.”
Still, budget committee chair Ald. Pat Dowell (3) filed a Rule 41 notice last week to bring the ordinance back up for a vote on Wednesday.
Stolen phone crackdown
Aldermen on Wednesday are also set to approve an ordinance (O2021-5859) Lightfoot and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5) introduced last month meant to crack down on stolen cell phones.
If approved by aldermen on Wednesday, the ordinance would hike fines for people caught re-selling stolen phones from between $1,000 and $2,000 to between $2,000 and $10,000.
Additionally, the measure would revoke the license of businesses caught selling stolen phones twice within two years. The business owner would be stuck to the license revocation for four years and the revocation would be attached to the physical location for one year, Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Comm. Ken Meyer told aldermen during a committee meeting last week.
Hairston said during last week’s committee meeting that cell phone robberies are “something that we are seeing all over the city” as a byproduct of carjackings. Hairston pointed to a recent incident in her ward when a man was murdered for his phone and the attacker immediately resold the phone for $100.
Municipal depositories, other ordinances
The council is also set to approve an ordinance (O2022-274) authorizing this year’s round of municipal depositories, or banks that will hold portions of the city’s approximately $9 billion in assets.
Despite an effort (O2021-2879) by city Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin to make it easier for smaller, community-based banks to apply for the right to hold city assets, the list of banks who applied this year is nearly identical to the roster of big-name national institutions who already hold city funds, Comptroller Reshma Soni told aldermen during a hearing last month. However, GN Bank, a Black-owned, Chicago-based bank currently designated as a Chicago municipal depository, did not reapply for the right to hold city funds. MUFG Union Bank, another relatively small institution, did not reapply either.
Representatives of the Illinois Bankers Association and the nonprofit Woodstock Institute suggested last month that new city rules (SO2021-2872) requiring banks to disclose their home lending data could be repelling smaller banks from applying.
The following other citywide ordinances are on tap for approval on Wednesday:
O2021-3106 — A proposal from Ald. Brendan Reilly (42), which if approved on Wednesday would ban pedicab drivers from playing music on a radio or speaker between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. each night. Reilly introduced the measure last July with a companion ordinance (O2021-3104) that would have created an “exclusion zone” in River North where pedicabs would be banned from operating overnight. But Reilly dropped the “exclusion zone” proposal after speaking with “members of the pedicab industry to narrow the scope and focus” of his efforts, he told his colleagues last week.
O2021-5871 — The “encumbrance ordinance,” allowing the Chicago Department of Housing to waive city debts, fees and liens on any property the city is targeting for private “revitalization” efforts.
O2021-5875 — An ordinance authorizing the issuance of a $75 million bond to renew the city’s TaxSmart program, which offers a 25 percent tax credit on some homeowners’ mortgage interest payments, capped at $2,000 per household per year.
O2021-5286 — An ordinance from Lightfoot that follows up on last year’s initiative (SO2020-4817) allowing city license officials to revoke licenses of scofflaw towing companies operating in the city. The proposal up for a vote on Wednesday sets a series of “technical amendments,” one of which would double from one year to two years the life of city-issued “emblems” for tow operators. Updated rules also “clarify” that tow operators do not need to be affiliated with storage lots, and that they may tow cars to lots located outside the city. Under the new measure, companies with suburban tow lots will need an “affidavit certifying that the tow lot is in compliance with all applicable laws” before applying with the city for a towing license, Meyer told aldermen last week.
O2021-5726 — An ordinance introduced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot last month that would prohibit restaurants from marketing sugary drinks as part of kids’ meals. Lightfoot’s ordinance is proposed as a “local implementation” of Gov. JB Pritzker’s Serve Kids Better Act (SB1846), which the governor signed into law last August. If aldermen approve the measure on Wednesday, restaurants will only be able to advertise one of five “default beverages” as part of a kids’ meal: water; sparkling water without added sweeteners; flavored water without added sweeteners; nonfat or 1 percent dairy milk; “non-dairy milk alternatives” without added sugar that contain 130 calories or fewer; or “100 percent fruit or vegetable juice” without added sweeteners, served in a container of 8 ounces or less. Customers under the ordinance would still be allowed to substitute sugary or otherwise unhealthy drinks if they prefer them over the six “default” options.
Related: Kids’ beverage ordinance advances
SO2021-2058 An ordinance raising the minimum wage above the city’s minimum for employees of companies that are contracted by the airlines at Chicago’s airports.
O2021-5842 — A proposal from Ald. Michelle Harris (8), who chairs the City Council Committee on Committees and Rules, to transfer funds within the committee for the 2021 budget year. The measure proposes $5,500 from the rental/equipment line item to be used for material/supplies, $49.74 budgeted for “contingencies” to graphics/designs and $1,760 from the phone/AMI line item to be spent on “supplies.”
O2021-5873 — An ordinance raising the cap on a routine property transfer tax remittance that the city conveys to the CTA each year, reflecting higher-than-expected revenues each year. The approximately $76 million transfer will help the transit agency pay down its pension obligations.
R2021-1305 — The re-referral to the Finance Committee of a resolution by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35) calling for a study of potential city investments in weapons manufacturers.
R2021-1304 — The re-referral to the Committee on Budget and Government Operations of a resolution from Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25) calling for the city to use federal pandemic relief money to prioritize installing new water meters for low-income households.
R2021-1129 — The re-referral to the Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights of a resolution by Ald. Sophia King (4) “reaffirming” Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city for Haitian and other Black immigrants.
The following location-specific ordinances are on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting:
O2021-5877 — An ordinance authorizing the sale of the city-owned former Maxim’s Restaurant in Bertrand Goldman’s Astor Tower. If approved by the City Council on Tuesday, the measure will authorize the city to sell the commercial condo unit at 1300 N. Astor St. in the 43rd Ward to Adam Bilter of Bilter Foundation for the parcel’s appraised value of $680,000, according to city documents.
O2021-5882 — An ordinance authorizing the city to issue about $44.7 million in Multi-Family Housing Revenue Bonds to help finance a renovation of the 272-unit Barbara Jean Wright Court affordable apartments in the 25th Ward. The loan, coupled with $4 million in tax-increment financing, will aid the Jonathan Rose Companies’ imminent takeover and renovation of the housing complex.
O2021-5878 — An ordinance authorizing the sale of a of vacant city-owned property at 3975-77 S. Drexel Blvd. and 3981-83 S. Drexel Blvd. in the 4th Ward to John Jones for $250,000
O2021-5876 — A proposal for the Class C tax status renewal for the property at 4535 W. Armitage Ave. in the 36th Ward.
O2021-5841 — Expenditure of $450,000 in Open Space lmpact Fees to reimburse Chicago Public Schools for work on storm drainage, an asphalt basketball court, a play plaza area and a drinking fountain at Oscar F. Mayer Elementary School at 2250 N. Clifton Ave. in the 43rd Ward.
O2021-5732 — Expenditure of $329,800 in tax-increment financing for Chicago Public Schools to fund mechanical upgrades at Solorio Academy High School at 5400 S. St. Louis Ave. in the 14th Ward.
O2021-5746 — Expenditure of $3.8 million in tax-increment financing for Chicago Public Schools to fund a new mechanical system at Irma Ruiz High School at 2410 S. Leavitt St. in the 25th Ward.
O2021-5747 — Expenditure of $4.25 million in tax-increment financing for Chicago Public Schools to fund a roof replacement at Spencer Elementary Technology Academy at 214 N. Lavergne Ave. in the 28th Ward.
The council is also set to give a final stamp to all the measures approved by the City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards on Tuesday, including a proposal to relocate Saint Anthony Hospital within Little Village.