Was aldermanic challenge to a Finance Committee settlement a test or a predictor?

Date: 
06/14/2019
FCWaguespack

New Finance Chairman, Scott Waguespack requesting City Council votes

One item set for approval, on a docket of 23 presented by Finance Committee Chair Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, became a lightning rod for discussion at the second City Council meeting presided over by Mayor Lori Lightfoot. But why?

Lead up to City Council meeting
The tug-of-war began on Tuesday at the Finance Committee's first meeting with Waguespack as its Chair, ending the 30-year plus chairmanship reign of Ed Burke, 14th Ward Alderman. 

At issue was a $3.7 million settlement on a Law Department backed case for which the original ask was close to $26 million. 

The majority of the settlement is to go to a young woman whose spinal cord was crushed in a 2014 car crash in River West. 

The lawsuit alleged that the City was negligent because it failed to adequately repair an unprotected embankment where the accident occurred. 

After a lot of discussion, those present from the 35-person committee voted against the proposed settlement by a vote of 13 to 8. 

Waguespack adjourned the Tuesday meeting and set the committee to reconvene the next morning prior to the 10 a.m. Council meeting. 

LightfootPresiding

Mayor Lightfoot opened the meeting

City Council
By the time the City Council meeting was gaveled open, the Finance Committee vote to pass was 22 to 3. 

Despite that, when the item was presented at City Council, 15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez expressed opposition. 

Rlopez

Alderman Raymond Lopez

"I am not a fan of rewarding bad behavior," said Lopez, about his opposition to the settlement. "What happened was unfortunate. A woman being paralyzed was unfortunate, but they were over-served. They were driving while intoxicated. They believed that the mirage in front of them was an on-ramp to an expressway when in fact it was a light pole before a 20 foot drop." 

He said that he knew that his fellow aldermen's concerns were about liability if the case went to trial but he is worried about the message it sends. He said that his constituents don't understand why "we are the piggy bank for every settlement that comes through particularly [because] of our ability to pay." 

TTunney

Alderman Tom Tunney

Alderman Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, said that while he is not an attorney, he has had experience in such situations. He believes that for the sake of taxpayers the settlement should be paid. 

"We do not want to be in that court room where that unfortunate individual is in front of a jury or judge." He believes that if a judge or jury looked at 50 years of care for this woman, the settlement would be much greater than $4 million. 

BReilly

Alderman Brendan Reilly

Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward, said that he is as furious as Lopez about this case, but he agrees with Tunney and voted "yes" to approve, thereby protecting taxpayers. He feels it is irresponsible bar owners over-serving their patrons then "setting them loose on our public right-of-way." 

He would like to see more accountability by the "bad bars" who are over-serving as well ad those who are turning their vehicles into weapons. 

NSpasato

Alderman Nick Spasato

GCardenas

Alderman George Cardenas

Also voting "yes" was Nick Sposato, 38th Ward Alderman, and Alderman George Cardenas, 12th Ward, who wants to see more risk assessment and management. 

Brookins

Alderman Howard Brookins

Referring to this payment and putting it into perspective, Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr, 21st Ward, said that in terms of the amount of payments for these settlements, it does not compare to police misconduct and other settlements across the City. Each may not be much but in the whole and in consideration of all the taxpayers, action needs to be taken to reduce these kind of expenditures. 

The entire City Council passed the $3.7 settlement passed with only three oppositions. They were from: Lopez, Marty Quinn, 13th Ward Aldermen and Silvana Tabares in the 23rd Ward. 

FlessneLightfoot

Newly elected Corporate Counsel Mark Flessner with the Mayor

Lightfoot's post Council meeting
In response to the comments from multiple aldermen regarding better management across multiple departments, Lightfoot said that she is charging her newly approved Corporation Counsel, Mark Flessner, to aggressively go after people who create "the harm." 

“We have to have a rigorous and robust risk management system. We don’t have that," said Lightfoot. 

She also said the first chief risk management officer will be announced soon and tasked with developing a risk management system. 

Lightfoot echoed the words of some of the alderman by saying, “But let’s not lose site of the fact this case doesn’t happen if that guy doesn’t get over-served. ... If the bar owners were responsible. If they had cut him off. And if he had not gotten behind the wheel of the car.” 

Why did this series of actions occur around one settlement?

Was this a challenge to Waguespack and/or Lightfoot? 

Maybe some are testing the waters of the new guard.

Many of the old guard have been in their jobs since before this last election. Many of them have been tied to the previous administration for years, even decades. They did as suggested/requested/pressured. Many continue to be Burke supporters, despite his 14 indictments on corruption charges, added to the original indictment for allegedly accepting bribes. 

Some of the old guard say they want more control of issues that come before the Council. But, old habits are hard to break. Saying they want transparency and accountability is one thing, practicing is another. 

Waguespack appears to be hopeful, saying, "Having a government that functions using the best and most efficient processes that are open and accountable to the City's residents is what the people of Chicago deserve."

"My efforts will continue to change and improve the good practices of our City governing bodies and work with fellow elected aldermen to move the City forward."

"As a mayoral candidate, Lori Lightfoot was the only person who I felt would work toward those ends.

"In the short time that she has occupied the fifth floor office, I think that she is right on target. I look forward to learning and improving the work of the Council Finance Committee operations and to work with all the aldermen and administration to have more honest and transparent government in Chicago."

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