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O’Shea proposes 45-day deadline to ‘light a fire’ under city to eliminate gap between sanitation violation and citation

The Southwest Side alderman proposed the 45-day window in response to audit accusing Law Department of blindsiding homeowners and businesses and forfeiting revenue by allowing way too much time to pass between the time a sanitation code violation is committed and citations are issued.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), chairman of the City Council’s Aviation Committee and a close ally of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, wants the city to “light a fire under itself” to speed the gap between violation and citation.
Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), chairman of the City Council’s Aviation Committee and a close ally of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, wants the city to “light a fire under itself” to speed the gap between violation and citation.
Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times

Inspector General Joe Ferguson has accused the city’s Law Department of blindsiding homeowners and businesses and forfeiting revenue by allowing too much time to pass between the time a sanitation code violation is committed and citations are issued.

Southwest Side Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) thinks he has an answer to the bureaucratic bungling that has allowed overflowing dumpsters and weed-filled lots to pile up across the city.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, O’Shea plans to introduce an ordinance requiring notices of violation to be served no more than 45 days after the date of the violation is committed. That’s everything from overflowing garbage dumpsters to overgrown weeds.

If homeowners and business owners are not served within that 45-day window, the ticket would be non-suited.

“The city would light a fire under itself. Process these tickets. Get ‘em to the property owner so the property owner can start cutting the weeds or being a good neighbor. And then, we can curb the bad behavior and peoples’ quality of life won’t be adversely effected,” O’Shea said Tuesday.

“A Streets and Sanitation ticket is written and, in many cases, it was taking eight months, nine months, ten months for the property owner to receive the ticket. We need to get these things out in a timely manner….so we can avoid these problems in so many communities.”

O’Shea said he doesn’t care who is responsible for the fact that 87% of the 101,729 code violations issued over a two-year period were sent to property owners at least six months after the violation was committed and nearly 24 percent of those notices took “more than a year” to issue.

“We need revenue,” he said. “The city needs to do a better job of processing these things. There’s no excuse. No other big city has anywhere near the backlog we’ve had in the last several years.”

On the day the audit was released, Ferguson urged the Law and Streets and Sanitation departments to work together to “set targets for a maximum number of days” between violation and notification.

To ease the backlog and address “untouched and incoming violations,” the inspector general also suggested hiring “temporary or seasonal staff” and a management system of “performance monitoring.”

Ferguson has acknowledged that the Law Department “prioritizes accuracy of ownership verification and the strength of cases against alleged violators over the speed of notification.”

But he has also argued that quicker notifications would help to “promptly correct the problem” that triggered a violation.

“These delays increase the burden on Streets and Sanitation and waste taxpayer money, mowing lots multiple times — at additional taxpayer expense and diversion of department resources needed to attend to other responsibilities — before a property owner even receives the first ticket,” Ferguson said on the day the audit was released.

“While the Department of Law has worked recently to reduce delays, it fails to acknowledge that there remains substantial room for improvement. Or that it is even reasonable to set a goal for how soon tickets should be sent after a violation is observed, such as the 60-day goal suggested last year by aldermen who often bear the brunt of complaints of procedural unfairness from constituents, and which data from other municipalities suggests is achievable.”

Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey has portrayed the inspector general’s audit as old hat.

“The backlog in 2016 and 2017 was unfortunate, but was addressed quickly through a combination of a revised staffing model and technological enhancements, rendering this audit unnecessary,” McCaffrey has said.