Community groups determined to block construction of a $95 million police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park filed a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to block the City Council from reconsidering the plan on Friday.
Attorney Brendan Shiller, son of former Ald. Helen Shiller (46th), branded the political hardball played by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the “worst of Chicago politics.”
He accused the mayor and his City Council allies of using “the most Trumpian of government thuggery to tamp down debate and avoid true discussion and deliberation.”
The lawsuit filed by the #NoCopAcademy coalition accuses the mayor’s forces of violating the Open Meetings Act by refusing to allow public comment at Tuesday’s Budget Committee meeting until after aldermen had already voted to appropriate $20 million from the sale of a valuable North Side fleet maintenance facility for the new police academy.
It further accuses the mayor’s minions of violating Robert’s Rules of Order by abruptly recessing Wednesday’s City Council meeting after two aldermen used a parliamentary maneuver to delay consideration of the fund transfer.
The city clerk’s office maintains that the meeting was “adjourned.” That would allow any matter deferred and published on Wednesday to be considered.
Shiller argued otherwise.
“If you listen to the video they didn’t adjourn it and create a new one. The video says ‘recessed and continued.’ That says it’s a continuation of the same meeting at which this issue was deferred and postponed,” he said.
“To try to do some sneaky game where you recess and continue the meeting for two days doesn’t take away the defer and publish.”
The stronger case appears to be Tuesday’s decision by Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) to vote first and take public comment after the fact.
“Having the vote, then having public comment doesn’t remedy the violation,” Shiller said.
The mayor’s office had no immediate comment.
The police academy has become a symbol of Emanuel’s misplaced priorities, drawing fire from Chance the Rapper, Black Lives Matter and other groups operating under the #NoCopAcademy label and from colleges students across the nation.
The U.S. Justice Department report triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald found CPD’s training to be sorely lacking.
But the coalition has nevertheless argued that the money would be better spent on jobs, youth and education programs.
“Don’t tell me you have to close 50 schools and close six mental health clinics then say you have $95 million for a new shooting range and a new swimming pool for police,” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said Wednesday before deferring the fund transfer.
Emanuel’s decision to summon the City Council back to session on the Friday afternoon before the long holiday weekend inconvenienced his own allies.
But the mayor said he was determined to get on with a fund transfer that impacts not only the new academy, but the 311 makeover and the fleet maintenance facility in Englewood.
“We’ll be back Friday for a vote that everybody knows is gonna pass. It passed 48 to 1 the first time,” Emanuel said Wednesday.
“Given the fact that investments have not happened on the South Side and West Side for decades — I don’t see a reason to wait when you know what the conclusion is gonna be.”
The mayor challenged reporters to name one alderman whose vote would change between now and Friday. Nobody said a word.
“You characterized what I did as playing hardball. Between today and Friday, who here believes a vote is gonna change? Going once. Hearing no objection, so ordered. There’s not gonna be a vote change,” he said.
The complaint about misplaced priorities is similar to the objection raised when Emanuel proposed spending $55 million in TIF money on a new basketball arena for DePaul University that doubles as an event center for McCormick Place.
But the mayor had an answer for that, too.
“We all know this actually fulfills what the Obama Justice Department said,” he said.
Emanuel said he “hears the voice and the concern” from young people who “want to see investments” in other priorities.
But he said, “It is not an either-or choice. It’s a complement to the economic needs of the West Side and it is called for by the Obama Justice Department report, which is why we’re giving our officers the best facility for the best training to give them the best technology and support to do the job we want to see them do on the streets.”