Mayor Won't Listen? Alderman Won't Listen? Tell it to a Judge!
Supposedly our elected representatives in City Hall, our aldermen are more like mere pimples on Daley's ass. As the Mayor ratchets up his naturally autocratic tendencies to grossly megalomaniac proportions in an overblown pageant of raw power for the benefit of the International Olympic Committee, our already pathetic public processes are completely pre-empted, and Chicago's citizens are forced more and more to deal with the government of their home town in the courts. Our Mayor and Aldermen trample process and say to their citizens, "This is how it's going to be. If you don't like it, sue us," and, increasingly, citizens are taking them up on it.
The "Save Lincoln Parks" folks recently scored a major victory for community voice when the City and Park District caved, settling out of court. How did they do it?
The City is EXTREMELY adverse to going to a discovery phase. Our home town's decision-making processes do not bear up well under close scrutiny. The City does NOT want citizen's lawyers crawling over City departments, City Council committees, and the Plan Commission armed with subpoena power; forget FOIA, we're talking the power to compel testimony under oath from City officials.
So the secret to suing the City of Chicago is relatively simple:
DON'T GET THROWN OUT OF COURT EARLY!
Focus like a laser beam on getting to discovery. Specifically, the "Save Lincoln Park" folks hired crack attorneys, Thomas J. Ramsdell and Reuben L. Hedlund, a former Chairman of the Plan Commission. Their filing was EXTREMELY careful with establishing "standing," that is, they were careful to find folks willing to go on record who were directly harmed by the City's plan. They lined up:
- a mom with an 8-year-old who participated in a flag football club that met on the formerly green space occupied by Latin School;
- a condo owner in the building closest to the site; and
- a mom with a minority 11-year-old who lives in a neighborhood that was "denied adequate and improved local park facilities comparable to those being developed for the Latin School"
Protect Our Parks vs. Latin School, Park District, and Plan Commission
Ben Joravsky of the Reader calls their complaint "a model for how to sue the City." It's highly recommended reading for anyone interested in community activism in Chicago.
We find ourselves at a very sad place in terms of community voice in Chicago. Citizens should not be routinely in court at a table opposite their own home town. We each of us have a $104,101.00/year advocate in City Hall, we shouldn't have to hire lawyers. Just thank god there are three branches of government in Chicago, because one man controls two of them. Looking back, when fans rose up to protest the wanton midnight destruction of Meigs Field, we should have all been thinking "there but for the grace of God." If our City Council and Plan Commission did their jobs, maybe we wouldn't be here. But here we are.