Open Meetings Act potentially puts Alderman Harris in trouble with AG

Date: 
10/18/2014
MHarris

Michelle Harris

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office requested a proceedings review of Chicago City Council's Rules and Ethics Committee's Oct. 7 meeting. In question is whether Committee Chair Michelle Harris, 8th Ward, violated the State's Open Meetings Act. The issue behind this action was getting the elected school board as a referendum item on the ballot. 

Alderman Bob Fioretti, 2nd Ward, and Alderman Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, sent a letter to Madigan's office stating that the Substitute Resolution to add two referendum to the Committee's Agenda with no prior notice made the vote invalid. The Open Meetings Act states that 48 hours before a meeting the agenda must be posted and it must include “general subject matter of any resolution or ordinance that will be the subject of final action at the meeting.” 

The one referendum scheduled was for paid sick leave for all workers. The two added were: mandatory treatment for city workers convicted of domestic abuse who want to stay on the payroll and limits on campaign contributions. 

With the addition of the two items, the school board issue could not be placed on the ballot because a referendum may include only three items. 

At City Council on Oct. 8, the progressive caucus was planning to force a vote to get the elected school board on the ballot. The Rules Committee action blocked that plan. 

As reported on WTTW's Chicago Tonight, Oct. 7, Paris Schutz, explained that a group of alderman aligned with Mayor Emanuel preempted the alderman planning to get the issue on the ballot at the City Council meeting. "It happened within seconds. The Committee's Chair, Michelle Harris, closely aligned with Mayor Emanuel, there was no formal debate, there was no out loud vote. Before alderman who descended could get up and say anything, the gavel was banged and the ordeal was over. We've heard this tune before." 

"Alderman Scott Waguespack….believes that the Mayor has tried to suppress descent." (View the video below.)

Referenda are advisory questions, non-binding. As WTTW put it, "Supporters of an elected school board, though, hoped the referendum would drive voter turnout and send a clear message to the mayor, who currently controls the school board by appointing all of its board members." 

Harris followed Dick Mell, 33rd Ward Alderman from 1975 until he stepped down in 2013, as longtime Rules Committee Chairman. Known as the committee where "legislation goes to die," its current chair had until Fri., Oct. 17, to turn in a written response to the allegations and any documents pertaining to the meeting.

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