Opinion: An Open Letter to Ald. Michelle Harris

Ward Room requests an update on legislation stuck in the Rules Committee

Dear Ald. Michelle Harris:

On behalf of the people of Chicago, I would like to invoke Rule 41 of the Rules of Order and Procedure of the Chicago City Council.

Not everything in Rule 41, of course. Just the part where somebody outside of the chairman of the Rules Committee has a right to know what’s going on with legislation sent to your committee for review.

As you are no doubt aware, a number of proposed ordinances and resolutions currently reside in the City Council Committee on Committees, Rules and Ethics, which you chair. As you are also aware, some of those ordinances and resolutions, such as the Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance (PTAO), calls for an elected school board and a proposal to redistrubute TIF funds, have been in the Rules Committee for almost a year or more.

So, in spite of not being a member of City Council but as someone who has a vested interest in democracy working in Chicago regardless of politics, I and many others would like to know what is going on. Hence, Rule 41.

Much attention has been paid in recent weeks and months over some of these proposed pieces of legislation, and on the very powerful role the Rules Committee has played in keeping them from either being voted on or being given hearings in the City Council.

Some people believe that since many of these ordinances and resolutions represent proposals Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants ignored, or that were sponsored by aldermen who oppose his administration, you are doing his political bidding by refusing to move the proposals out of your committee.

Known as the place where "good legislation goes to die," the Rules Committee was run for years by powerful 33rd Ward alderman Richard Mell. When he retired in July and you took over, many Chicagoans hoped your leadership would represent a return to transparency and accountability for the committee.

For me, I don't know whether you are doing someone else a political favor by keeping perfectly valid legislative proposals buried in the Rules Committee or not. Theoretically, ordinances are referred to the Rules Committee whenever there is a dispute over which committee has jurisdiction on the issue in question, a common enough occurrence in a legislative body.

But I must say: it does seem a bit unusual that of all of the hundreds or thousands of pieces of legislation the City Council deals with every year, only a handful of proposals sponsored by a few specific alderman are referred to Rules, only to remain stuck in your committee.

It’s also interesting that the ordinances and resolutions currently residing in Rules address fundamental questions about how this city should be run, such as proposals to redistribute TIF funds, subpoena power for the Inspector General’s Office or moratoriums on charter school expansions.

And, as far as anyone can tell, the Rules Committee isn't being asked to rule on whether these ordinances should be made into law, or whether they are good for Chicago or not. Just which other Council committee they should be referred to. That shouldn’t take upwards of a year to figure out.

Along with procedures for how to process routine matters referred to a committee, Rule 41 also says:

Whenever any referred matter shall not have been reported back to the City Council by the committee to which referred, within a period of thirty (30) days from the date of referral, the chairman of the committee shall at the written request of the sponsor submit a report in writing to the Council at its next regular meeting, giving a brief summary of the proceedings had in said committee in relation to such referred matter and stating the reasons for the failure or inability of the committee to report such referred matter back to the Council together with its conclusion thereon up to such time.

Just to make sure we’re clear about what’s being discussed, here are the ordinances and resolutions in question along with the dates they were introduced before being referred to Rules, taken from the Office of the City Clerk’s website:


O2013-56987/24/2013Redistribution of surplus funds from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts
O2013-50096/26/2013Amendment of Section 2-156-111 of Municipal Code regarding prohibited conduct by elected officials or city employees
O2013-34295/8/2013Amendment of Section 2-56-010 of Municipal Code regarding law enforcement powers and duties of Office of Inspector General
O2013-34285/8/2013Amendment of Section 2-56-040 of Municipal Code regarding issuance of subpoenas by Inspector General
O2013-34265/8/2013Amendment of Section 2-56-090 of Municipal Code regarding cooperation in investigations by Inspector General
O2013-34255/8/2013Amendment of Section 2-56-020 of Municipal Code regarding operation and management of Office of Inspector General
O2013-34235/8/2013Amendment of Section 2-56-030 of Municipal Code regarding powers and duties of Inspector General
O2012-806411/15/2012Amendment of Chapter 2-92 of Municipal Code to establish Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance
O2012-663210/3/2012Amendment of Title 1 of Municipal Code regarding overseas and military absentee voting in Chicago municipal elections


R2013-7599/11/2013Submission of public question to Chicago voters regarding election of members of Chicago Board of Education
R2013-2693/13/2013Call for hearing(s) on elimination of Office of Legislative Inspector General and expansion of jurisdiction of Office of Inspector General
R2013-1802/13/2013Call for Chicago Board of Education to establish moratorium on charter school expansion for 2014-2015 school year
R2012-7999/12/2012Amendment of Rule 55 of City Council Rules of Order and Procedure concerning broadcast of Budget Committee hearings

Unfortunately, as your office has ignored numerous requests for an interview about these and other matters before your committee, and despite the obvious fact that I am not a member of City Council and have no real standing in this matter, I would nevertheless like to ask you a simple question, Ald. Harris:

It’s been more than 30 days since these ordinances were referred to your committee.

What’s the problem?

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