CITY HALL — The City Council Rules Committee hastily approved three advisory referendums for the February municipal election Tuesday, thus blocking out a proposed question on an elected school board.
Ald. John Arena (45th), who had sponsored the school board referendum, said it was blocked by what he called "political shenanigans" as only three city-approved referendums are allowed on the ballot.
The Rules Committee, which has been called "where good legislation goes to die," had been slated to consider only a referendum sponsored by Ald. Joe Moore (49th) on whether workers in Chicago should be granted paid sick leave. Moore said he looked to voters to "take their temperature and get their viewpoints."
Yet a substitute resolution, not mentioned in the posted committee agenda, added two referendums: one on whether political campaigns should be publicly financed, a measure backed by the grassroots group Common Cause, as well as another, sponsored by Ald. Deborah Graham (29th), on whether city employees convicted of domestic violence should be required to seek treatment.
Arena immediately asked if the city had any data on how many employees might have been convicted of domestic violence. "It seems to me that would be important information," he said, "how big a problem this might be."
Graham said she had no such information and called domestic abuse a "silent predator."
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) chimed in, calling it a "crime of shame" and the "most underreported crime in the City of Chicago."
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) asked Rose Kelly, of the city Law Department, what regulations were on the books. Kelly said a domestic-violence conviction would be grounds for termination, but a worker could be kept on if seeking treatment were made a condition for employment.
Waguespack wondered why they would need to gauge public opinion on behavior already covered in city regulations, and what the legal ramifications were to compel an employee to seek treatment.
Graham expressed "surprise" that her proposed referendum proved controversial. She said domestic violence was an issue across the city and the nation, and later said she had no idea whether this third question was blocking any other proposed ballot initiatives.
Yet Arena called it "political shenanigans," adding, "I think to use domestic-violence victims as a political tool, it just shows how afraid they are of the question."
Waguespack pointed out the other two ballot issues are already dealt with under federal law.
"In my opinion, yes, they're trying to block our efforts," Arena said. "Clearly they're afraid of the question.
"I believe that these questions, and the timing of them, [makes] clear that they're designed to crowd out more relevant questions."
Arena said the questions "could be anything," adding, "Is the sky blue?"
Arena and Waguespack cited an earlier referendum, submitted in select precincts, that showed a vast majority of voters, 87 percent, preferring an elected school board, unlike the current Board of Education entirely appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Arena had been planning to introduce the referendum on the elected school board, which has been locked in the the Rules Committee, directly onto the City Council floor Wednesday. Yet that maneuver might be moot now that the ballot is filled up.
"We're researching that," Arena said, without revealing what, if any, additional plans he has for Wednesday's City Council meeting.
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