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City Council to open meetings for public comment
by Matt Simonette
2017-03-22

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Following a 2016 lawsuit from gay-rights activists, city lawyers, on March 17, said that they would not appeal a ruling forcing public comment during City Council meetings.

Activists Andy Thayer and Rick Garcia filed the lawsuit when they were barred from entering council meetings, ostensibly due to space concerns, in 2016. Although Thayer and Garcia were among the first in line to enter, seating in the Council's gallery was already full since guests and associates of the Council and city staff had previously been seated.

The suit also noted that the public had no opportunity to voice their opinions at the full Council meetings. Thayer had intended to protest a $15.8 million tax increment financing ( or TIF ) subsidy toward a $125-million luxury project on the site of the former Columbus Maryville Academy near the lakefront. The council approved the proposal at the June meeting, so Thayer and Garcia maintained that the vote should be cancelled out, since, they said, the vote took place in what was essentially a closed meeting. The council has only been hearing public comment during committee meetings.

Judge Diane Larsen issued a partial ruling in December that the council's admissions policies and meeting formats were squelching public-comment opportunities. Larsen did not address the Council's seating policy in that ruling.

Chicago Sun-Times reported March 17 that the city would not appeal the ruling, as it originally planned.

"The City of Chicago and its City Council will be adding an opportunity for residents, community leaders, stakeholders and others to speak during City Council meetings," law department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said in an email to the Sun-Times. "As such, the City is withdrawing its appeal and will begin drafting a rule to give the public another opportunity to speak during the legislative process."

In a Facebook post, Thayer said he will keep pushing for the reversal of the June TIF vote, adding, "This is a win that hopefully all left forces in the City can use to our advantage going forward.

"For those of us fighting against displacement of working class and people of color in Uptown, this is but an important first step. The illegal City Council meetings that we sued about resulted in the Council passing a $15.8 million subsidy for luxury housing, just yards away from where people sleep underneath bridge viaducts. We demand that the $15.8 million instead go to building public housing for homeless people, rather than feed the profit margins of rich, politically connected developers."

Chicago Sun-Times' article is at bit.ly/2mCOfPa.


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