Report Back: Chicago City Council’s June Session Photo by Sean Duffy

Report Back: Chicago City Council’s June Session

The Chicago City Council met for its second session of the 2019–2023 term on June 12th, 2019, less than a month after the inauguration on May 20th and only two weeks after a reconvening of the council to session on May 29th. The second council meeting with Mayor Lori Lightfoot at the gavel and six socialists in the assembly was the first true regular council meeting of the term, with the council back to business as usual.

It’s very difficult to follow what’s going on during a council meeting, especially if you’re unfamiliar with how the body normally goes about conducting business. A regular meeting of the Chicago City Council follows a standard 18-point agenda from the call to order by the mayor to adjournment. And generally, council meetings don’t actually involve a lot of voting. Most resolutions and ordinances voted on by the council are added to an omnibus bill, “a single roll call vote taken and applied to all items noted voted upon separately, or for which another vote was not employed during the course of the meeting.”

Under council rules new ordinances and resolutions, whether introduced by the Mayor, City Clerk, or an Alderman, are automatically referred at the time of their introduction. A 2/3rds vote to suspend the rules is required for immediate consideration of an item, which the council does quite regularly, but almost always for honorary resolutions rather than legislation.

For instance, at this June’s meeting, Mayor Lightfoot called “resolutions?” following public comment. Alderman Mitchell rose and after being recognized moved a resolution extending congratulations to the Earle STEM Chess Club on achievements during the 2018–19 school year. This was followed by a resolution recognizing June 10, 2019 as a “Day to Celebrate Women’s Right to Vote” and commemoration of the Women’s Suffragette Movement.

While there is no real debate in the sense that these resolutions normally pass unanimously, there is time spent on ‘debate’ where the Mayor and alderman rise to speak glowingly about whatever symbolic gesture is being made by the council that day, in an entirely staged roundabout that makes for good PR for the journalists and good field trip fodder for the young students visiting city hall that morning. For those waiting for the council to get to the real business of governance and politics however, it’s this part of council meetings that are the most insufferable. All in all the council spent a solid 25 minutes off the regular agenda on the two resolutions, both which passed with no objection.

Returning to regular business, the meeting continued with communications from the mayor, a series of ordinances introduced and referred to various committees, followed by communications by the City Clerk. Clerk Anna Valencia sped through the text of the various reports, ending each with the customary “your favorable consideration of this ordinance would be appreciated, very truly, yours, the mayor,” repeated again and again in intervals of at most 30 seconds.

What usually constitutes the ‘meat’ of a city council meeting are the committee reports, Finance most especially. This June meeting’s Finance committee was particularly of note as it was Alderman Waguespack’s first reporting back as the new chair of the committee. More than an hour into the council meeting, Waguespack rose, and continued standing for the entirety of his report, a full 25 minutes—probably the longest the alderman has ever had to stand in front of the council.

Waguespack struggled through the committee report, with three items from the committee’s supplemental agenda causing controversy. The first was a 3.6 million settlement to a woman paralyzed in a drunk driving accident in 2014. The city, liable for poor maintenance of the intersection at which the accident occurred, ended up paying more than both the driver of the vehicle and the club that overserved him. A vote on the settlement had initially failed in committee the day before, with Waguespack forced to recess till the next morning right before the council meeting to reconsider the vote, where it then passed.

After moving the 23-item committee agenda in a series of motions without objection, Waguespack moved the supplemental agenda of the finance committee. Item 1A: settlement of “the Ibach case”—the drunk driving accident. 15th ward Alderman Raymond Lopez rose in opposition to the settlement. “I am not a fan of rewarding bad behavior,” Lopez said.

“I’m worried about this message this sends,” Lopez continued. “The message that this item… and item c, which I’ll get to later when it comes up… that says we are taking people’s criminality and bad behavior and paying for it—taxpayers are paying for it.”

Lopez was followed by 44th ward Alderman Tunney and others who agreed with Lopez’s sentiments but stressed that if the case went to trial the city could be liable for up to 10 times the amount it’s paying now to settle.

“I’m not cool with irresponsible behavior… but that ship has sailed,” said Tunney. “We have to make sure we protect the taxpayer here.” 42nd Ward Alderman Reilly followed.

“The facts of this case made me furious,” Reilly said, “But for all the reasons my colleague is furious and voting no, I’m furious and voting yes.” Reilly finished: “we need accountability… but in this particular case we need to cauterize this thing, pinch our noses, and protect the taxpayers.” Several other alderman followed in support of voting yes, repeating one after another the need to “minimize risk for the taxpayer.”

The mayor recognized Alderman Rosa: “Madam President I move the previous question.”  Mayor Lightfoot briefly consulted the council parliamentarian. “Unless anybody else wants to be heard I think we’re finished with the comments and we go back to Alderman Waguespack?” The motion passed 47–3, with Alderman Lopez, Quinn (13th ward), and Tabares (23rd ward) voting nay.

Two other settlements from the Finance committee’s supplemental agenda had aldermen on the record voting nay, both related to CPD misconduct. With the second settlement, “the Campbell case,” Alderman Hadden and Alderman Taylor recused themselves from voting as they both had been involved with organizations listed as plaintiffs in the settlement (Network 49 and Brighton Park Neighborhood Council respectively). The motion passed 45–3, with Beale, Thompson, and Gardiner voting nay but no debate on the council floor.

The other settlement was $265,000 for Javier Sepulbeda, who was shot in the back three times by Chicago police while fleeing. Alderman Lopez again rose to speak against the settlement, emphasizing again that the city was “rewarding criminality” and asserted that the plaintiff in the case was “a likely gang member.” The motion passed, 36–14.

View the full report of the roll call votes here.

The council follows committee reports with new business, where the City Clerk, as with communications and reports from the Mayor, introduces ordinances and resolutions submitted by council members with great speed. I sat next to the Chief of Staff of one of the council’s socialists during part of the meeting, who afterwards turned to me confused and asked, “Wait… so did they introduce GAPA or not?” Referred to committee and only briefly described, it’s hard to figure out what was actually introduced until you look up the record online.

Just before adjourning the session, Alderman Rosa rose and after recognition by the Mayor moved a resolution, introduced originally at May’s session, recognizing the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. Rosa spoke along with the Mayor and the other members of the council’s LGBTQ caucus: Lopez, Cappleman, Tunney, and Hadden. It’s the only caucus Alderman Rosa currently shares with Lopez, who left the Latino caucus earlier this year after Rosa supported a progressive challenger in his ward.

Rosa was briefly kicked out of the Latino Caucus back in 2018, but after a recent caucus vote will now serve as its vice-chair. Alderman Sigcho-Lopez will serve as treasurer.

6/12/2019 – Introduced Legislation of Note

  • O2019-5305: Amendment of Municipal Code Chapters 2-56 and 2-156 regarding government ethics
    • Co Sponsored by Andre Vasquez, Matt Martin, Michele Smith, and Mayor Lightfoot
  •  O2019-4153:  Amendment of Municipal Code Chapter 1-24 to further regulate Chicago Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave Ordinance
    • Co Sponsored by the Socialists and 30+ other council members
  • O2019-4277:   Amendment of Municipal Code Title 2 by adding new Chapter 2-82 entitled “Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability” (The GAPA Ordinance)
    • Daniel La Spata is the only socialists to co-sponsor, joined by 30+ other council members.
  • R2019-422:  Call for review of previous 25th Ward permit and license requests submitted prior to May 20, 2019
    • Sponsored by Byron Sighco-Lopez

Upcoming Committee Meetings

  • 7/9 @ 10AM – Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards
  • 7/11 @ 12PM – Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety
  • 7/15 @ 10AM – Committee on Budget and Government Operations
  • 7/16 @ 1PM – Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development
  • 7/17 @ 10AM – Committee on Housing and Real Estate
  • 7/17 @ 11AM – Committee on Transportation and Public Way
  • 7/17 @ 1PM – Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight
  • 7/23 @ 10AM – Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards

Next City Council Meeting: Wednesday July 24th at 10AM