CITY HALL — A City Council maverick and challenger to Mayor Rahm Emanuel charged Wednesday that a committee violated the Open Meetings Act to snuff out a proposed referendum on an elected school board that might have proved politically embarrassing to the mayor.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), a candidate for mayor in February's municipal election, said Tuesday's Rules Committee meeting violated state law in that two other proposed referendums, hastily approved by the committee, were never posted on the public agenda.
"It was only dealing with one referendum," Fioretti said of the agenda, which included an item on a referendum gauging public interest for paid sick leave for Chicago workers, sponsored by Ald. Joe Moore (49th).
"What happened after that," Fioretti said, "two additional ones were put under a separate ordinance."
Those referendums — on the public financing of political campaigns, and whether city employees convicted of domestic violence should be forced to seek treatment — were not modifications of that original referendum ordinance, he added, but entirely new items snuck in to bypass debate.
Fioretti called it "a political move to keep the elected school board off the table," in that a maximum of three citywide referendums are allowed on the ballot. He said he had filed a complaint with state Attorney General Lisa Madigan to nullify the committee action.
Madigan's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Ald. John Arena (45th), lead sponsor of the referendum on an elected school board, had planned to take it directly to the City Council floor Wednesday, but dropped that parliamentary move when it appeared moot, after the Rules Committee OK'd the other three referendums. Arena called the Rules Committee action "political shenanigans."
Arena has pointed to a previous referendum, two years ago, in select city precincts, which found an overwhelming majority of voters, 87 percent, favored an elected school board.
Emanuel, who was credited in some circles with orchestrating the Rules Committee moves behind the scenes, stepped away from the issue after Wednesday's council meeting, saying, "The procedure, as it extends to City Council, they'll handle that."
Instead, the mayor addressed the "larger issue, which is education," saying, "We have elected school boards for each school," in Local School Councils.
"We're accountable," Emanuel said of his administration and the entire Chicago Public Schools system, including the Board of Education he appointed. He cited gains in the graduation rate, test scores, a full school day and a full school year and the expansion of International Baccalaureate and science, technology, engineering and math curricula.
Emanuel dismissed the notion of an elected school board, saying, "I don't believe what we need right now is more politics in schools."
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