Public Meetings Report. Illustration by Holley Appold/South Side Weekly
Public Meetings Report. Illustration by Holley Appold/South Side Weekly

Public Meetings Report – September 30, 2021

A recap of select open meetings at the local, county, and state level for the September 30 issue

  1. Public Meetings Report – March 18, 2021
  2. Public Meetings Report – April 1, 2021
  3. Public Meetings Report – April 15, 2021
  4. Public Meetings Report – April 29, 2021
  5. Public Meetings Report – May 13, 2021
  6. Public Meetings Report – May 27, 2021
  7. Public Meetings Report – June 10, 2021
  8. Public Meetings Report – June 24, 2021
  9. Public Meetings Report – July 08, 2021
  10. Public Meetings Report – July 22, 2021
  11. Public Meetings Report – August 05, 2021
  12. Public Meetings Report – August 19, 2021
  13. Public Meetings Report – September 30, 2021
  14. Public Meetings Report – October 14, 2021
  15. Public Meetings Report – October 28, 2021
  16. Public Meetings Report – November 11, 2021
  17. Public Meetings Report – November 25, 2021

Aug 18

Due to the COVID-19 delta variant surge, the Chicago Board of Health reinstated a mandate for wearing masks indoors in public places at its meeting and scheduled it to take effect on August 20. Some 400 cases were being reported each day. Chicago Department of Public Health employees report that they are fatigued and overwhelmed. They noted that they should be proud: the nationwide surge is affecting Chicago moderately, and the City believes it’s under control. In addition, the department is developing ways to distribute personal protective equipment and vaccinations more efficiently and equitably.

Aug 19

Most of the residents who called in to the Chicago Police Board meeting indicated that police presence was rare to nonexistent in their neighborhoods and that when they were present, their presence did little to curb quality-of-life disturbances or crime. Even so, callers asked for more police resources to solve those problems. The board learned that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency representatives had met with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) to learn how it handles transparency and community interactions. In addition, the board terminated David Salgodo’s employment as a police officer and officer Jorge Puma resigned after it was recommended he be discharged for misconduct.

Aug 24

At its meeting the City Council Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity considered changes to the city’s affirmative action program for women and minority-owned construction firms. A proposed amendment to the municipal code would continue the program through December 2027. It would also modify qualification requirements by allowing applicants to qualify until they reach 150 percent of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s size standard; determining the net worth of the firm based on average gross receipts during a seven-year period instead of the current five-year period; and excluding non-liquid assets from net worth calculations. Although there was no vote, in general, committee members seemed to support the need for continued affirmative action for minority and women-owned businesses to ensure a level playing field.

The Illinois Department of Public Health Infant and Maternal Mortality Among African Americans Task Force continued to determine how best “to move the needle” at its meeting. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the state ranks “36th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia” in infant mortality, or 6.5 deaths per 1,000 live births, affecting Black mothers and infants at significantly higher rates. The task force is planning research into additional programs that might be used or modified for use in Illinois. The research planning includes surveys of frontline workers, community members, and suggestions for tools or resources from task force members. These should be submitted to Kenya McRae, who heads the state’s Division of Maternal, Child, and Family Health Services.

Aug 25

Reaching students who fell behind due to virtual learning necessitated by the pandemic, implementing COVID-19 preventive measures, and working out thorny issues surrounding school resource officers were key topics at the Board of Education meeting before schools reopened for in-person attendance for the 2021-22 school year. A number of public speakers addressed these issues and many others. Prominent among them was Jesse Sharkey, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who advocated for clarity about COVID-19 measures and related policies. Several safety strategies are scheduled to be implemented, including three feet of social distancing, universal masking, and more classroom cleaning and disinfecting. Even though school resource officers will be in schools to start the year, CPS indicated it intends to honor decisions of some local school councils to remove some or all school resource officers.

Aug 26

A lack of affordable housing was a major concern at the Department of Planning and Development meeting. Prioritizing transit-oriented developments and closing loopholes that allow developers to alter designated “affordable” units later for different uses were issues raised by public commenters. In addition, even with increases in affordable housing standards taking effect on October 1, there may not be enough units to meet demand, and, commenters emphasized, more investment in affordable housing is critical.

Aug 27

At the Cook County Health and Hospitals System board meeting, board members discussed how the pandemic has both taken a toll on hospital workers and put a relative strain on hospital finances. Revenue is rebounding for Cook County Health (CCH) though. The Human Resources department reports a higher number of separations than previous years, meaning that CCH is losing employees. The directors had questions about the possibility of the mandatory vaccine driving up separations. Interim CEO Aaron Galeener said that with the governor’s vaccine mandate for health care workers, it would not be a decision to leave CCH, but one to leave the profession altogether.

Chicago water bills have tripled in the past ten years, and at least a dozen Council members are backing the “water for all” ordinance. Yet discussion was limited at the City Council Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy meeting because only seven of fifteen committee members were present. Chicagoans dealing with significant water cost burdens are encouraged to apply for the existing Utility Billing Relief Program.

Aug 30

Divisions remain over how to allocate $1.9 billion in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) relief funds approved in March. At the City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations meeting, plans to use about eighty percent of the ARP funds to pay off $965 million in debt were supported by the City’s budget director, Susie Park, and chief financial officer, Jennie Huang Bennett. Such debt saves money in the short term but increases debt in the future, Bennett said. Some council members challenged that approach, citing the potential need for additional COVID-19 allocations and relief for working-class families reeling from difficult financial problems.

Aug 31

Two years to trim trees, instead of one estimate of fourteen days by Chicago’s 311 system, and other inaccurate and lengthy service times, sparked calls for improvement at a meeting of the City Council Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development. The system responds to non-emergency service requests ranging from pothole repairs to complaints about sidewalk cafes—in short, anything that’s not a 911 emergency. Employees at city departments respond and give estimates of how long it will take to provide services. Council member Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) suggested that the system base responses on data from actual response times and other factors. He indicated that greater accountability and better City budgeting would be additional benefits.

Sep 1

At a meeting of the City Council Committee on Health and Human Relations, Matt Richards, deputy commissioner for behavioral health, explained the Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE) co-responder program pilot. Emergency response teams will consist of a crisis-intervention, team-trained police officers, a fire department paramedic, and a mental health professional. The pilot will begin late this year in thirteen Chicago community areas with high volumes of crisis calls. Council member Rossana Rodríguez Sanchez (33rd Ward) emphasized the need to invest more in the City’s five remaining mental health clinics. That would allow the CARE teams to transport individuals experiencing mental health crises to excellent free care instead of simply providing a list of resources. The committee also unanimously supported a federal bill, known as the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, that would allow individuals to determine their political status.

Sep 2

At the Commission on Chicago Landmarks meeting, the “Bienvenidos a Little Village” arch at 26th and Albany was approved for preliminary landmark designation. Built in 1990, the arch pays homage to Mexican colonial architecture, such as the capilla abierta “archways found in churches” and partitions in haciendas. The arch spans the street and is considered to be in the public way. Its maintenance falls to the Chicago Department of Transportation and is also undertaken by the Little Village Chamber of Commerce. If final status is approved, architect Adrian Lozano will be the first Mexican to be recognized by a Chicago landmark designation. He also designed Pilsen’s Benito Juárez Academy and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen.

Scandals concerning sexual assaults and harassment at the Park District were a key topic of discussion in the approval of the appointments of two commissioners to the Chicago Park District Board at a meeting of the City Council Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation. Of equal concern was the possible retaliatory firing of a chief investigator and deputy inspector for the Park District. Myetie Hamilton and Modesto Tico Valle’s appointments were approved and were to be considered by City Council as a whole. The building of a turf field and running track at Talcott Fine Arts and Museum Academy was unanimously approved.

Sep 7

A proposed $600-million collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police was approved at a meeting of the City Council Committee on Workforce Development. The proposed agreement, later approved by the full City Council, would end four years of rank-and-file police working without a contract. Key points include retroactive and future raises averaging 2.35 percent annually, from July 2017 through 2025, and new accountability measures. One ends a forty-year ban on investigating anonymous complaints against officers. Another allows officers to change their stories after viewing video footage of an incident, though they could be charged for it. 40th Ward alderman Andre Vasquez asked “Why do we consider obligating officers to speak truthfully a win? Why are we patting ourselves on the back for something that should be baseline?”

A report on the first and second quarters of 2021 presented at the City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate meeting showed that the City’s Department of Housing is behind on achieving its goals in its five-year “One Chicago” housing plan covering 2019 through 2023. But the department also showed that it has provided meaningful relief to renters and homeowners during the pandemic. Bryan Esenberg, managing deputy commissioner, reported on the plan’s implementation. He highlighted that the department created or preserved 1,792 affordable rental units (31 percent of its 2021 goal), disbursed millions of dollars in emergency rental assistance program grants, and brought greater flexibility to the affordable requirements ordinance for creation of affordable units by developers. Council member Roberto Maldonado pointed out that Latinos are underrepresented as Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) voucher holders and tenants because there isn’t enough CHA housing in predominantly Latinx communities. Ten new two-flats with 75 percent developed as affordable housing are to be built on Troy in North Lawndale. The reappointments of CHA Commissioners Matthew W. Brewer, James E. Matanky, and Debra Parker were approved unanimously.

Sep 8

Changes to the City’s cannabis zoning ordinance were approved at a meeting of the City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards. Many of the changes would deregulate business operations. Concerns remain about whether the ordinance, which skeptics considered was “rushed through,” will benefit social equity businesses as intended. For example, social equity licensees might find that applying and then selling their business to the highest bidder to be more profitable than operating the businesses themselves. Business licenses are awarded by the state, but the City regulates when, where, and how businesses operate. The proposed changes would reduce the size of the downtown exclusion zone significantly and ease restrictions on other areas where cannabis businesses can operate. The required proportion of affordable units in housing developments will double to 50 percent from 25 percent.

The Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners addressed various issues at its meeting and named the Jackson Park Turf and Track after Bob Pickens, a former Chicago Bear and Park District commissioner. Pickens played for the Bears from 1967 to 1969 and he died in 2018. The Obama Foundation funded the relocation and upgrades to the turf. Swimming safety was addressed with discussions of new signage, community partnerships, education, and restrictions. The legality of ring buoys was explained as a response to Rogers Park community concerns about a recent death at Prinz Beach. Public comments covered issues of deferred maintenance, park restrictions, and leadership oversight. Some questioned whether Douglass Park festivals delivered a promised economic boost. Parks Superintendent Michael Kelly defended challenges that North Side parks received more attention than South Side parks. Finances are also an issue. The district’s $30-million annual budget, funded by a $2 billion deficit, covers fifty wards for an average allocation of $600,000 per ward.

Sep 9

Is Chicago’s system of government corrupt? Members of the City Council Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight reflected on this question at their meeting in connection with approving two appointments to the Chicago Board of Ethics. Both appointees—new member Norma Manjarrez and continuing Board Chair William Conlon—agreed that the system is not corrupt. Conlon pointed out, however, that power is sometimes abused. There was also concern that new state lobbying regulations, regarded as some of the strongest anti-corruption measures in the country, could intimidate constituents who simply want to speak to their council representatives.

At its meeting the City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations approved the extension of an agreement, funded by FEMA at $500,000 per month, with the Hotel Julian to shelter men experiencing homelessness. The Department of Family and Support Services sought the extension. Commissioner Maura McCauley explained that the extension would enable the City to continue to work on permanent housing for them. About 120 men have been housed by the program. Currently, 29 of 175 rooms are occupied.

“The racist colonial rule must end,” alderman Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward) declared at the Chicago Commission on Human Relations Board of Commissioners meeting. He was urging federal legislators to support the Puerto Rican Self-Determination Act, which is currently in the Senate. If the federal bill is passed, a commission would be established to explore options for Puerto Rico, such as independence or becoming the 51st state. Alderwoman Rossana Rodríguez Sanchez (33rd Ward) lived in Puerto Rico until she was thirty and talked about the U.S.’s role in water shortages, the bombing of Vieques, and the Hurricane María response.

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This information was collected in large part using reporting from City Bureau’s Documenters at documenters.org.

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