Ald. Joe Moore probably destroyed his reputation as a City Council independent Monday. Moore refused to allow his Human Relations Committee to vote on a measure that would have placed a non-binding referendum for an elected school board on the November ballot. His reason? The sponsors filed their paperwork three minutes late, missing the Open Meetings Act requirement for posting an agenda item 48 hours in advance.
(Ald. Edward Burke, that parliamentary fox, once used the same tactic to kill a City Council vote on an affordable housing measure.)
Moore is opposed to an elected school board, saying that in a “factionalized” city, special interests could exercise too much influence over the results. Of course, the same could be said of any election, in Chicago or anywhere else. That’s no reason not to hold them. On that, he agrees with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose spokeswoman said “we don’t need more politics in our education system.”
In fact, since Emanuel took office in May 2011, Moore has agreed with him on everything, from more stringent regulations for NATO protestors to speed cameras near schools. It has been speculated that Moore wants Gov. Pat Quinn to name him director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. If he gets that job, Moore would like Emanuel to appoint his wife, Barbara, to replace him as 49th Ward alderman.
After the meeting, Moore was criticized by several Emanuel-era independents, including John Arena, Bob Fioretti and Scott Waguespack. “We thought we had an ally in Joe Moore,” Ald. Roderick Sawyer told the Tribune. “The people got screwed.”
Today, Moore responded, posting a statement in which he portrays himself as the defender of democracy:
A successful democracy requires transparency. There is a reason that we have rules in place requiring adequate notice for meetings so that the public knows what their government is doing. The Open Meetings Act requires a committee to post its agenda at least 48 hours in advance of a meeting, so that the public is given fair notice of the meetings of public bodies and the matters that will be considered at those meetings.
When my colleagues asked me to amend my meeting agenda to include a direct introduction of the advisory referendums, I readily agreed, but I cautioned them to be aware of the process that was entailed. After days passed and I hadn't heard from them, I contacted one of the leading aldermanic proponents the afternoon before the filing deadline and advised him of the approaching deadline. He assured me he would meet the deadline, and I instructed my staff assistant to arrive at City Hall early the next day so that she would be available to help him file the necessary paperwork. Unfortunately, he arrived too late to meet the filing deadline, despite my staff assistant's efforts to help him make the deadline. That he didn't make the deadline is not my fault, it's his fault.
The 48-hour notice rule is not a suggestion. It's a mandate. It's there to protect open and transparent government which is fundamental to a functioning democracy. The law does not provide a fudge factor. It doesn't say, the committee shall undertake it's best efforts to provide notice, or do the best it can. The 48 hour rule is a mandate, which I take very seriously. I cannot play favorites by ignoring the notice rules for one group simply because they have noble intentions. To do so would be to undermine the very integrity of the open government rules and I'm not prepared to do that.
Yes, three minutes is "cutting it close," but what if the next time the notice deadline is missed by five minutes or 10 minutes or 30 minutes or three hours or one day? Where do you draw the line? I think it's far better to be fair and consistent across the board.
I'm sure you know there are other avenues available to submit advisory referendums to the voters. Citizens can submit petitions for advisory referendums in their ward or precinct. But they have to submit them by the deadline. If you're even one minute late, the Board of Elections won't accept the petitions. The same rule applies to candidates filing their nominating petitions. It's a fair and even handed way to avoid playing favorites. Isn't that what democracy should be about?
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