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City Council Follies

The Ringing Bells of Liberty

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Technically, it may not be a case of the blind leading the blind. Call it the subject-of-a-federal-investigation leading the fellow-subjects-of-a-federal-investigation. Either way, there was something a bit off about Alderman Virgil Jones giving the religious invocation at last week's City Council meeting.

Jones is one of the many aldermen under investigation in Operation Silver Shovel. Both the Tribune and the Sun-Times reported that sources identified Jones as "Alderman A," who introduced convicted former alderman Allan Streeter to government mole John Christopher. Streeter told Christopher that Alderman A had given him a good reference, so Streeter took $37,020.50 in bribes from Christopher. Jones is infamous for letting Christopher hand out free watermelons from the back of a pick-up truck at a Jones ward picnic.

As for Jones's invocation, it was most notable for creating the cheery illusion that Barry White was leading the City Council in prayer. If Jones wore more jewelry, he could bump off White and take over his life.

The talk of the meeting was the failed aldermanic insurrection against Mayor Daley's new Office of Administrative Adjudication. Daley's plan basically takes the current system of city hearing officers ruling on such things as parking tickets and extends it to other minor violations of the city's municipal code. The ordinance called for the council to give Daley's new hearing officers subpoena powers. Aldermen Berny Stone and Burton Natarus were so incensed they threatened to introduce legislation taking back the subpoena powers the council has already handed over to Daley during the past few years.

They didn't. Instead, Stone and Natarus claimed they were satisfied with a last-minute, Daley-approved amendment requiring that subpoenas be "relevant to the issues at hand," as Stone put it.

"No balls!" hissed one disgusted reporter.

The normally quiet, unassuming, and loyal Alderman Thomas Allen threw out the lone vote against the mayor's plan. Not that Allen was much fiercer than his colleagues. He nervously explained he was concerned about the housing court cases in his northwest-side ward, not the subpoena powers. Allen wages a continual battle against illegal home conversions that cram scores of, typically, illegal immigrants into single-family homes. He feared that these cases would now be handled by city hearing officers, which Daley disputed.

"Now what I'm concerned about, uh, Mr. President, is that these housing cases now will be before a hearing officer, and I, I think what we're doing is we're gonna to miss that aspect of prosecution, at least with respect to my cases--," Allen started.

"Serious cases, that's a serious case," Daley interrupted testily. "They can move the serious cases over to circuit court."

"Because what they're doin' here is all the buildin' cases, all the zoning cases--" Allen tried again.

"Because there're thousands of building cases," snapped Daley. "These are the most serious cases in your community. The illegal conversion is a serious case--they would move it over automatically to the circuit court."

"Because we have currently in place--"

"There are thousands of cases over there that can't even be handled, you know that," said Daley.

"Right. No, I know that, but I, I, in my instance, I, I go over there personally to monitor and make sure they're handled," said Allen sheepishly.

"Yeah, but no one says that the judges should respect the city attorneys," said Daley.

"Right. No, I know the problems that exist over there," Allen mumbled. "Lastly, I'm a little concerned about some of the constitutionality of this ordinance--uh, we allow hearsay evidence, we allow, uh, the hearing officer to incarcerate someone up to 180 days if he violates an order, uh, and fine a person, uh--"

"Only a court can do that, if you read the law, only a court," Daley growled.

"Well in any event Mr. President, I, I regret to say that I can't support this ordinance--"

"Alderman, go back to law school," spat Daley.

"--thank you," Allen finished, almost inaudible by this time.

Daley slammed down his gavel. "Clerk, call the roll."

--Cate Plys

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