Here's a look at some of the highlights from today's Chicago City Council meeting.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced changes to the city’s parking meter deal during a somewhat chaotic city council meeting Wednesday.
The changes, which include free parking for some parts of the city on Sundays and a pay-by-cell option, are part of a settlement with the parking meter company over outstanding legal disputes.
Emanuel said the settlement would save taxpayers $1 billion over the remaining 71 years of the contract, which former mayor Richard M. Daley signed with Chicago Parking Meters LLC in 2008.
In exchange for free parking on Sundays, three extra hours of paid parking will be added in the areas between the Chicago River to the south, and Division Street to the north, the lake to the East, and the Chicago River to the west. Metered parking would be extended by one extra hour, to 10:00 p.m., in other parts of the city.
But not all aldermen are sold just yet.
“A lot of my colleagues are hesitant,” Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said to reporters. “Many of us were burned the first time, and some folks are concerned we are doubling down on a bad deal."
The complete settlement agreement and amendment to the parking meter contract was presented to aldermen today. They will have 30 days to review and discuss the information before it goes up for a vote.
Reilly, whose ward incorporates River North, said he didn’t know whether 30 days would be enough time to really understand the deal.
“Until we really understand how this one’s set up, it’s, I think, appropriate for people to be hesitant and ask lots of questions and take the time that it deserves,” he said. “It’s a major policy move.”
Emanuel said in remarks after the meeting that everyone “would like this nightmare to just go away.”
“Unfortunately, because of what happened, the city is stuck with this [contract] for 71 more years,” he told reporters.
He has refused to pay the bills sitting on his desk regarding the parking meter company's claims of lost meter revenue caused by free disability parking and other non-revenue spots.
Emanuel said his administration developed a city database in order to challenge the parking meter company’s numbers.
“When we finally ... had a database, we said you know what? Your numbers don’t add up, and I’m not paying them. We never had that ability before to tell the company, ‘Your numbers aren’t worth the paper they’re written on,'” he said.
As part of the settlement, free parking on Sundays would be for neighborhoods south of Roosevelt Road, west of Halsted Street and north of North Avenue.
But Reilly said there are two different issues at play with the deal. First, he said, is the settlement on the billion-dollar liability, which Reilly said the mayor’s team did a “great job” on. Second is the business of extending hours and free Sunday parking.
“Those two things could be decoupled, and if they were decoupled and they present us a different settlement that’s just on the billion-dollar liability, I guarantee you every single member of this council would vote for it today,” Reilly said.
Progressive Caucuses Propose Independent Budget Office
Also today, the council’s Progressive Reform Caucus and Paul Douglas Alliance issued a joint statement stressing the importance of creating an Office of Independent Budget Analysis (OIBA), which would study and provide feedback regarding major city legislation prior to a vote.
“The parking meter deal is a daily reminder to all taxpayers what happens when there is no independent body charged with assisting the council in its review of the proposed deals,” the statement reads. “As legislators it is incumbent upon us to ensure taxpayers are protected – and to do this, we must create an office that provides independent analysis of major policy proposals and legislation.”
The Progressive Reform Caucus and Paul Douglas Alliance offered ways to pay for the office, including eliminating the Legislative Inspector General's office.
City council oversight could then be transferred to the city’s Inspector General’s office. The aldermen suggest taking $150,000 from the Legislative Inspector General’s $300,000 budget to pay for the OIBA. That move would save taxpayers $150,000, they said.
The aldermen also suggested allocating $250,000 form the city’s Innovation Loan Fund to pay for the OIBA.
“We anticipate Mayor Emanuel’s support to create the OIBA – our proposal is in line with his commitment to transparency and independent analysis,” the statement reads.
Non-Profits To See Water Bill Relief
The city council also approved a measure that changes water fee rates for non-profits.
Churches, hospitals and other non-profits began paying fees for their water in 2012 to help balance the city's budget. That decision sparked an outcry from religious leaders, in particular, who said the fees would hurt the city’s churches and the community programs they offer.
The new ordinance will put a scaled payment system in place. Non-profits with assets less than $1 million will receive free water. Meanwhile, non-profits with more than $1 million in net assets will see some water fee deductions, while those with $250 million or more will have pay their water fees in full.
The bill passed without any floor debate or discussion.
Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr. (27th) told reporters the ordinance was a “good compromise,” although he still has concerns regarding assets.
“We still got to work it out,” he said. “I think we’re moving in the right direction. I think God is softening people’s heart, and they’re giving in, so just like the mayor pushed the meter people to turn around, we pushed to get the mayor to turn around on the water.”
Jimmy Lago, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago, echoed Burnett’s concerns regarding how water fees are scaled based on non-profit assets. In exchange for the city’s commitment to the issue, the Archdiocese of Chicago supported today's ordinance, with the hope that it can be revisited later, Lago said.
“It’s a leap of faith, and we’re looking for the good will of those who will be in the room with us and we expect that,” Lago added.
Emanuel said the ordinance is restructured in a way that both respects the taxpayers, who normally would have to pick up a $20 million tab for non-profits’ free water, and acknowledges the differences among non-profits.
“I think we’ve done it in a thoughtful way, reflective of every one of the not-for-profits and religious entities’ different roles in communities, meaning their net value, but nonetheless ended the practice where the taxpayers were on the hook for everybody else, and that was wrong,” Emanuel told reporters after the meeting.
City Council Passes Resolution To Encourage Acceptance Of LGBT Athletes
A resolution that calls upon commissioners of major sports leagues to publicly announce support for their gay athletes also passed at the meeting.
“The city of Chicago will go on record, once again, as it has in the past, in support of equal rights and in support of human rights, and in support of human dignity,” Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who sponsored the resolution, said at a news conference before the meeting.
The Last Closet, a web campaign and video project with the goal of ending homophobia in men’s professional sports, helped push the passage of a similar resolution in San Francisco and also led the efforts in Chicago.
“I’d like to commend the city of Chicago and also San Francisco for taking the lead on this,” said Fawn Yacker, project director at the Last Closet. “We want leaders to be visible so that these kids, and even adults, who are staying in the closet and are desperately wanting to be visible can be visible as well.”
Read Progress Illinois’ report on Tuesday’s public Committee on Human Relations hearing regarding the resolution here.
Battle Over CPS School Closure Plan Rages On
Opponents of the Chicago Public Schools’ proposed school actions demonstrated outside City Hall Wednesday.
About a dozen of those protestors also disrupted the council meeting shortly after 10 a.m. They stood from their seats and repeatedly shouted, “Walk the walk! Hands off our schools!” They were quickly ushered out of the meeting following the outburst.
Reporters later questioned Emanuel about CPS’ independent hearing officers’ disagreement with 14 of the 53 proposed elementary school closings.
Emanuel assured reporters that the Chicago Board of Education would read the hearing officers' reports before voting on the proposed school actions.
He added that school closings and consolidations are a “difficult issue.”
“But it’s really difficult being a kid in a school that’s failing, and knowing that we have a responsibility to change that and can’t,” Emanuel said.
One reporter told Emanuel concerns from some community members who have said if any child is harmed due to the school closings, the blame will be on Emanuel.
“What if you have 61 percent of your kids graduating, which is a record high for CPS, not what I’m satisfied with, a record attendance going to college, [and] a record that are going out and getting Gates fellowships, but 56 percent of African American male adolescents are dropping out,” Emanuel responded. “Don’t I also have responsibility for that?”
Emanuel said his responsibility doesn’t start if a child is harmed as a result of school actions.
“My responsibility starts when the doors to the future of a child are closed, because we do not take responsibility, and we are not accountable for making the tough decisions that are necessary to build a better future,” he said.
The Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote on CPS' school action plan May 22.