Progress Illinois recaps Wednesday's Chicago City Council meeting, during which aldermen reaffirmed Chicago's status as a "sanctuary city" and approved new drone regulations and a Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance.
As a growing number of governors, including Bruce Rauner in Illinois, seek to block Syrian refugee resettlement in their U.S. states following Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris, Chicago's mayor and aldermen reaffirmed the city's commitment to being a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees during Wednesday's council meeting.
The council passed a non-binding resolution challenging Rauner and other U.S. politicians who wish to turn away Syrian refugees.
"[W]e the mayor and the members of the city council of the city of Chicago hereby reaffirm the city of Chicago's status as a sanctuary city and its commitment to remain a place of sanctuary and refuge for refugees from around the world," the resolution reads.
Ald. Ed Burke (14th) was among the resolution's cosponsors.
"Over the last several days, there are those who would seek to use the attacks in France as a means to prevent refugees from coming to these shores," Burke said on the council floor. "They act without authority and in violation of some of the most basic tenets upon which this nation was founded."
Unsubstantiated news that one of the suspected Paris attackers may have slipped into Europe with Syrian refugees has sparked a debate in the United States over refugee policy.
On Tuesday, newly-elected U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI,1) called for a "pause" on the U.S. resettlement program accepting 10,000 new Syrian refugees into the nation "in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population."
Emanuel pushed back on those wanting to block Syrian refugees.
"I think the notion that you would put on pause that we would welcome refugees fleeing the violence is not true to who we are as a county. It's also not true to who we are as a city," he told reporters after Wednesday's meeting.
Chicago aldermen noted that refugees looking to come to the United States have to undergo an intense vetting and screening process, which can take up to two years to complete. The resolution adds, "Half of the Syrian refugees brought to the United States have been children, a quarter are adults and approximately 2 percent are single males of combat age."
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), another cosponsor of the resolution, invited a Syrian family that fled the war and resettled in Chicago to today's city council meeting. The family received a standing ovation from aldermen.
"We're heartened to see Chicago's city council stand up to the culture of hate that's shown itself in recent days," Hatem Abudayyeh of the Arab American Action Network said in a statement following the resolution's passage. "Our city is better when we stand together in welcome of those in need of help. We call again on Governor Rauner to stop the dangerous rhetoric and continue to open the door of our state to Syrian refugees."
Arab American Action Network was among the groups that helped circulate an online petition ahead of the council meeting calling on Chicago to remain a welcoming city for refugees. It had garnered more than 5,700 signatures as of late Wednesday afternoon.
Emanuel's ordinance designed to prevent future privatization debacles, like the parking meter deal, passed the city council Wednesday.
The Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance was crafted with the support of Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), who for years had tried to advance a Progressive Reform Caucus-backed measure involving privatization transparency.
"I'm happy that this day has finally come," Sawyer said on the council floor, adding that he "can safely say that we will not have another parking meter deal in this city again because of this."
Emanuel said the new rules are modeled after the process the city used when it considered privatizing Midway Airport, an idea ultimately rejected by the administration.
The measure, Emanuel said, puts a "structure in place so if the city ever does consider again selling assets, we now have a set of rules, not by a decision the mayor makes, but a decision the city has now made, that will guide us."
Under the ordinance, aldermen will have to be informed of a privatization proposal at least 90 days before taking a vote. Independent evaluations of privatization plans would also be required under the measure, as would public hearings on such proposals.
The ordinance, endorsed by groups such as AFSCME Council 31 and the Better Government Association, covers potential asset privatization deals worth a minimum of $400 million and service privatization contracts valued at $3 million or more.
"Public services are best left in public hands, accountable to the people and not contracted out for private profit. This ordinance provides basic safeguards to protect the public interest and prevent reckless privatization in the future," AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said in a statement after the council meeting. "Too often, privatization diminishes service quality while driving down workers' wages and benefits."
During the city's budgeting process, Emaunel had called for the privatization of the city's 3-1-1 non-emergency services, a proposal fiercely opposed by AFSCME Council 31. Emanuel eventually dropped the 3-1-1 privatization plan from this budget proposal, following outcry from a majority of aldermen, including Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).
In remarks after the council meeting, Waguespack said privatization of the 3-1-1 call center is still "definitely on the table."
"The fact that the mayor brought it up means that there was something in the works in the first place and that this could come back anytime (in) 2016," he told Progress Illinois. "I'm going to be very vigilant about that. And that might trigger" the new privatization ordinance.
Overall, Waguespack described the new privatization rules as a "good first step." They give aldermen "a much better opportunity to either stop or slow down" privatization plans that go through the city council, he said.
However, the alderman said such a measure should have been adopted sooner.
"It's definitely taken too long," Waguespack said. "I thought the mayor's office should have stepped up to the plate two-and-a-half years ago and said, 'This is something we should do.' This is a city council-driven ordinance, and to block it for so long, I think, was unhelpful. But now that they're somewhat behind it, I think it will be a good deal for the council."
Drone Regulations Clear The Council
Regulations on where drones can fly in the city sailed through the council.
Aldermen approved an ordinance banning drones from flying higher than 400 feet and within five miles of Chicago's airports and above schools, hospitals, churches and any other "property the operator does not own," unless permission is granted. Under the measure, drones are also prohibited from flying "over any person who is not involved in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft, without such person's consent."
Those who violate the ordinance will face a fine ranging between $500 to $5,000 and could spend a maximum of six months in jail.
$700,000 In Police Lawsuit Settlements Approved
The city council signed off on two police lawsuit settlements totaling $700,000.
One of the settlements worth $500,000 involves the case of Ontario Billups. The unarmed 30-year-old was fatally shot on the South Side in 2010 by a Chicago police officer who was investigating alleged drug activity and thought a bag of marijuana the man was holding was a gun.
Maurice Waller will get the second settlement of $200,000. The settlement stems from a 2013 incident at 11th District lockup, where Waller was held after an arrest for criminal trespass to a vehicle. Waller's face was fractured during an incident with a detention aide at the police facility.
"While detained, he became agitated and disruptive, leading to an incident where he was struck by a detention aide," First Deputy Corporation Counsel Jane Notz said during Monday's Finance Committee meeting, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "Waller was then released without being provided medical care. A sergeant found him outside the station needing medical assistance and arranged for him to be transported to the hospital and accompanied him."
Aldermen Want Hearings On CPS Special Education Cuts
Progressive Reform Caucus members introduced a resolution calling for hearings into the school district's special education budget cuts.
"[R]ecent figures show that the Chicago Board of Education has cut special education funding to Chicago Public Schools by approximately $32 million to date," the resolution reads. "There has been no documentation produced by the Board of Education to illustrate the decision making process of these cuts."
Representatives from Access Living stood in support of the resolution with aldermen ahead of the council meeting.
"Special education in this city has been the low-hanging fruit that has been reached for in many budget cuts. This is amongst the worse," said Rod Estvan, Access Living's education policy analyst.
Waguespack noted that school district officials have stated previously "that they wanted to clear up misconceptions about the state of funding in special education."
"Were going to provide CPS with an opportunity to clear the air and tell the public exactly what the state of funding is and what supports special needs will get at this point in time and throughout the year," the alderman said. "The system supporting special needs students needs to be fully funded, and CPS has a moral and legal obligation to do that today and throughout the future."
Ban Proposed On Mandatory Arbitration
Companies that do business with the city of Chicago would be banned from requiring "mandatory arbitration" to resolve disputes with customers or employees under an ordinance Ald. Burke introduced.
"Over the past decade, thousands of companies have begun inserting 'mandatory arbitration' clauses into contracts, shielding themselves from court action by consumers over alleged discrimination, elder abuse, fraud, hate crimes, medical malpractice and wrongful death," reads a news release from Burke's office.
"The controversial practice specifically forbids customers from launching class action suits," which are "often the only chance for individuals to successfully challenge a large corporation."
The ordinance would apply to municipal depositories as well as all entities doing business with the city, such as cable, cellphone and credit card companies.
Under the proposed ordinance, "No business entity shall be eligible to do business with the city if such business entity enters into any pre-dispute arbitration agreement with any natural person after the effective date of this ordinance that requires arbitration of an employment or consumer dispute arising from any law intended to protect civil rights."