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Council Asks Staff to Research Appeal Rules

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

August 20 -- The City Council last week asked staff to explore options for providing a mechanism for appeals to be continued if five or fewer council members are present.

Last Tuesday’s action followed a contentious June meeting when a Landmarks Commission appeal was technically denied because the four council members present failed to come up with a motion. (see story)

City attorneys and the council now anticipate “significant exposure” to litigation, possibly from the University of Illinois Foundation, which owns the landmarked single-family residence at 2219 Ocean Avenue.

After discussing the possible litigation in closed session Tuesday, Council members Bob Holbrook and Pam O’Connor requested in open session that the council change its rules to direct staff to schedule appeals on meeting nights when at least six members are expected to be present.

In the event that an appeal is ready to be heard and fewer than six council members are on the dais, Holbrook and O’Connor suggested an appellant have the choice to continue the hearing to a future date.

“If a vote comes to four-one, that is really a tough situation to face,” Holbrook said. “If this is a trial and the jury was supposed to have seven members and the jury kept getting smaller and smaller, would anyone like this or think it is fair?”

O’Connor said changing council rules is no different than what staff already does in terms of agenda management.

Staff, O’Connor said, routinely calls council members to find out if they will be present at a meeting. Staff has a tendency not to schedule complex or hot topics on a meeting night when more than two members said they would be absent, she said.

With Council member Kevin McKeown voting against changing any Council rules, the other six Council members directed staff to also look at rule changes that allow the majority of those present to vote whether or not to continue an appeal.

“This is a cure that is worse than the perceived disease,” McKeown said.

At the June 26 appeal hearing of the landmark decision, there was an unexpected absence from one of the council members. At the time, there was also no council rule to allow the members present to vote to continue the appeal.

The council could not find a majority to vote on any issue regarding the case or its continuance.

On Tuesday Council member Ken Genser voted for the staff direction, despite favoring no rule changes. He suggested to staff that they include in their report the idea of making no changes to council rules.

McKeown, Genser and Mayor Richard Bloom believe what happened in June is an isolated incident and can be handled in a respectable manner by the council immediately before the appeal is to be heard.

Forcing staff to keep the appeal off of the agenda ahead of the meeting creates logistical problems, the three council members said.

City ordinances and appeals are legally required to be kept on an exact timetable, Genser said.

What if two council members separately told staff they would not be present to hear an appeal because of something related to a vacation, family or work, and then circumstances later change to where one of the members can attend the meeting?

In this case, Genser said, six members would be available for the meeting, but staff would not have the opportunity to schedule the appeal in time for adequate public notice of the hearing.

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“If this is a trial and the jury was supposed to have seven members and the jury kept getting smaller and smaller, would anyone like this or think it is fair?” Robert Holbrook


“This is a cure that is worse than the perceived disease.” Kevin McKeown



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