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

Public Meetings Report – April 21, 2022

A recap of select open meetings at the local, county, and state level for the April 21 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
  18. Public Meetings Report – December 9, 2021
  19. Public Meetings Report – January 13, 2022
  20. Public Meetings Report – January 27, 2022
  21. Public Meetings Report – February 10, 2022
  22. Public Meetings Report – February 24, 2022
  23. Public Meetings Report – March 10, 2022
  24. Public Meetings Report – March 24, 2022
  25. Public Meetings Report – April 7, 2022
  26. Public Meetings Report – April 21, 2022
  27. Public Meetings Report – May 5, 2022
  28. Public Meetings Report – May 19, 2022

April 5

Cook County Board of Commissioners committees received quarterly updates from county departments during meetings before the Board meeting. Several health-related departments reported reduced capacity to serve their constituencies due to staff shortages. For example, caseloads are double the ideal for social workers (forty vs. twenty) and psychologists (eighteen to twenty vs. ten), the Public Defender’s Office reported. Other departments seeking additional staff included Behavioral Health and Psychiatry, Cermak Health Services, Juvenile Temporary Detention Center Health Services, and the Department of Public Health. The Health and Hospitals Committee heard that even though booster shots work well against the most recent COVID-19 strain, the rate at which individuals are requesting boosters is low. 

Located just north of Midway Airport, the former LeClaire Courts public housing campus redevelopment continued its forward crawl over the past decade. The Community Development Commission recommended at its meeting a special taxing district to help fund the $350 million project. The commission reviewed development matters related to tax increment financing districts (TIFs) and recommended that the City Council approve the creation of the Cicero/Stevenson TIF district. It’s expected that the district would provide an estimated $80 million toward the development from tax revenue generated by the district. Ground could be broken this year. A second recommendation was for the sale of City-owned land located in the Ogden/Pulaski TIF area to Grace at Jerusalem Community Development Corporation and East Lake Management. A third encouraged the City Council to approve the sale of City land in West Ridge to NeighborSpace. It’s now maintained by community members as a garden. The commission was created by the City Council in 1992 to replace departments responsible for commercial development and urban renewal.

Hosted by the Office of the Mayor, the first town hall exploring casinos for Chicago saw Hard Rock tout its “world-class brand” and entertainment reputation beyond gambling. The event at Harold Washington Library is one of three, each focused on a different finalist proposal. It drew about seventy-five participants and featured a red carpet, snacks, and a DJ. The Hard Rock proposal offered three thousand slot machines, five hundred hotel rooms, shops, and other amenities at a “tourist-centric” location near Soldier Field and the Museum Campus. City officials have estimated a casino could create thousands of jobs and play a significant role in the city’s economic recovery from the pandemic. Questions were submitted in writing to a moderator, though participants were allowed a fifteen-minute Q&A at the end. Attendees raised concerns about how the development might affect area property values, safety, and quality of life. The mayor created a special City Council Casino Committee to streamline review of ordinances and requests related to the construction of a casino. Other large downtown locations such as Water Tower Place, the Thompson Center, and Navy Pier have been rejected as casino sites even as they face tenant vacancies and ownership changes.  

April 6

Designed to reduce the impact of rising gasoline prices, a new program would issue up to 50,000 pre-loaded cards for gasoline worth $150 each and 100,000 pre-loaded transit cards for CTA, Metra, or Pace Bus passes worth $50 each. Households can apply to receive the cards, which will be awarded via a lottery. The meeting of the City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations was devoted largely to creating a Transportation Assistance Program, also known as the Chicago Moves Initiative, as well as reviewing amendments to the 2022 Annual Appropriation Ordinance. Committee members raised concerns about sustainability, equity, inadequate outreach to marginalized communities, and mis-prioritization of issues during the pandemic. Chair Pat Dowell designated the meeting a subject matter hearing without voting. No written text was available on the City’s website before the meeting.  

At the City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations’ Recovery Plan subcommittee meeting, members learned that the Department of Planning and Development intends to introduce an ordinance in September to make it easier to buy vacant lots owned by the City. Committee members are concerned about how the CIty allocates violence prevention funds, especially in connection with the exclusion of neighborhood organizations and the underrepresentation of organizations led and staffed by people of color. One Summer Chicago youth participants will be paid fifteen dollars an hour this year, an increase of one dollar over 2021.

In its second Chicago Casino town hall hosted by the Office of the Mayor, Samir Mayekar, Deputy Mayor of Neighborhood Development, claimed Chicago had the lowest unemployment rate last year compared to other large cities. Jennie Huang Bennett, Chief Financial Officer, said the City has been planning this development for three decades, saying “$400 million statewide and $200 million citywide is lost each year this is not opened.” Soo Kim, the Chairman of Bally’s Corporation, presented their development proposal at the McCormick Place site, which will include a 3,000-seat theater and a sports museum. Bally’s has sixteen casinos, as well as an online business throughout the country and London. A former Cabrini-Green resident and business owner said they support Bally’s, but that the minority contractors they are working with have not worked with community contractors, particularly local Black contractors. Another resident said they want to ensure that twenty percent of jobs and contracts are given to Black workers and contractors, adding that Black people are being pushed out of Chicago.

April 7

How will the expensive housing market, continuing supply-chain disruptions, and persistent inflation affect the efforts to help more applicants buy homes? Board member William Towns posed this question at the Chicago Housing Trust Board meeting. He suggested that fluctuating labor and construction costs, as well as the effects of inflation, might be mitigated by reserving money to subsidize housing. This meeting also focused on the outcomes and opportunities of the renaming and rebranding of the Chicago Community Land Trust as the Chicago Housing Trust Board. The launch of a new website should allow housing grant applicants to apply online. It’s hoped that rebranding will afford more opportunities for news coverage that will better inform the public about the Board’s services.

Ineffective communication and action concerning property tax assessments from the Cook County Assessor’s office were the focus of three public commenters during the Cook County Board of Commissioners meeting. Assessor Fritz Kaegi was elected in 2018, replacing a controversial Joe Berrios. Commenters reflected various interests of the real estate industry. Criticisms included delayed property tax bills, miscalculations, and unexpected increases in assessed property tax values. The speakers asked for “predictability and transparency prior to the reassessments” (George Chandler, the Coldwell Banker real estate company); for standardization of the tax assessment process “as soon as possible” (Adriann Murawski, Illinois Realtors); and for the board to help the “Cook County property tax system come out of the unknown” (Erik Schwab, real estate broker). President Toni Preckwinkle also introduced the first Cook County Equity Fund Report. The report was “created to address historic and continued disinvestment and inequities that have negatively impacted Black, Latine and other marginalized residents,” according to a press statement. Nearly ninety “community partners” participated in developing the fund, which has been allocated $50 million to realize its goals to “benefit Black and brown communities and proactively invest resources . . . to achieve equitable outcomes.”  

In a meeting of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks & Permit Review Committee, commission members voted unanimously in support of advancing each of the four landmark designations through to the next (or final) step in their respective process. Presenters such as Preservation Chicago spoke during public comment on the importance of recognizing the Paseo Boricua Gateway Flags, Monumental Baptist Church Building, and the Emmitt Till and Mamie Till-Mobley House, among others. Commissioner Maurice Cox expressed his desire to see a streetscape landmark in the same spirit as the Humboldt Park flags constructed in Austin as the Soul City Corridor.

Members of the Cook County Board Commission on Social Innovation were asked at their meeting to consider how government entities, with the support of civic leaders, can fill an anticipated void in services provided by religious communities. Guest speaker Mark Elsdon, a minister and writer, estimates that $3.5 billion in church property will be sold in the country this year and that the pandemic has accelerated the closings and sales of houses of worship. Elsdon explained that religious groups have historically provided community services such as children’s programs, overnight shelter, free meals, and meeting space for self-help and other personal development groups. He is the executive director of Pres House, a building with a church, apartment complex, and campus ministry at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He encouraged the adaptive reuse of religious properties to provide services instead of sales of the properties to private developers. The commission was created in 2016 to explore innovative approaches to workforce development, industry, and community revitalization.

Would a proposed casino afford the City more control over crime and safety concerns because of its location? Developers of the Rivers 78 casino proposal insist that it would, but attendees at a community town hall hosted by the Office of the Mayor remained skeptical. Unruly attendees at times pressed Rivers Casino presenters about previous union-busting charges and how this casino would benefit Black and brown residents. A megadevelopment billed as Chicago’s 78th neighborhood, the 78 casino is planned for an area just north of Chinatown in the South Loop. It would also include a new school, park space, apartments, retail, and an observation tower promoted as “the Eiffel Tower of Chicago.” Members of neighboring communities have protested and raised concerns about affordable housing and support for people struggling with gambling addictions, especially those for whom English is not their first language. The mayor’s chief engagement officer Martina Hone warned that the event would end if inappropriate behavior continued. This town hall was the last of three, each focused on a different casino finalist. 

April 13

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s new $25 million initiative targets gender-based violence and human trafficking. A key component is that all workplaces have a written policy prohibiting sexual harassment. At a meeting of the City Council Committee on Workforce Development alderpersons approved changes to Chicago’s municipal code that would strengthen workplace protections against sexual harassment and double the maximum fine to $10,000. The state of Illinois requires all employees to complete one hour of sexual harassment prevention training. Under the proposed changes, Chicago would also require an hour of bystander intervention training and another hour of training for managers and supervisors. Nancy Andrade, commissioner of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, said that the commission would provide training resources to employers at no cost. Alderman Tom Tunney (44th Ward), owner of the local Ann Sather restaurant chain, said he was concerned that the proposed fine increase would hurt small businesses, especially with the currently low unemployment rate. JoAnn Newsome, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, explained that the proposed changes are intended to encourage employees to report incidents by reducing the fear of retaliation. 

Council members greenlighted the appointment of Deborah Witzburg as Chicago’s inspector general at a meeting of the City Council Committee on Ethics and Government Oversight.  Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is responsible for auditing the City government for inefficiency and corruption. The position had been vacant since October, when Joseph Ferguson stepped down after twelve years. Witzburg previously served as deputy inspector general of public safety but resigned to pursue the top spot. Witzburg cited police reform and violence reduction as her priorities. Some sister agencies, including the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Transit Authority, have dedicated inspector generals. Witzburg said she looks forward to meeting and collaborating with them. The appointment headed to the full City Council. 

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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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