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Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s top lawyer says city may not defend Chicago aldermen if demands on minority participation cause vendor to sue

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 9/22/2020 By Gregory Pratt, Chicago Tribune
a man wearing a suit and tie: Corporation Counsel Mark Flessner laughs as he interacts with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot during a City Council meeting Nov. 13, 2019. © Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Corporation Counsel Mark Flessner laughs as he interacts with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot during a City Council meeting Nov. 13, 2019.

Chicago’s top lawyer under Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned aldermen on Tuesday that the city’s Law Department may not represent them if a vendor sues over demands made by City Council members during committee hearings.

In a letter to the City Council, Lightfoot’s hand-picked Law Department head, Mark Flessner, said aldermen cross a line if they demand “the inclusion or exclusion of particular vendors or categories of vendors such as by race or ethnic origin in order to secure their vote.”

In cases in which a deal is presented to the city where companies “have formed clear contractual plans,” then an alderman demanding changes to the vendors could open the city or the City Council member to a lawsuit.

Flessner also warned against aldermen “unilaterally” trying to amend the terms of deals around minority participation.

“Let me reemphasize my concern in another way: There is a significant difference between” asking questions and making suggestions, and “insisting that a proposed ordinance be drastically and fundamentally amended through the imposition of compelled concessions unrelated to that ordinance, as a precondition of committee approval.”

If someone does either of those things and the city or aldermen get sued, Lightfoot’s administration may not be able to represent them or cover their costs, Flessner wrote.

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Flessner did not single out any specific aldermen, but the letter follows an incident earlier this month in which aldermen complaining about low minority participation numbers in an O’Hare International Airport cargo expansion project stalled a plan to issue $55.6 million in bonds to help pay for the next phase of the work.

Officials from Aeroterm were grilled by members of the City Council Finance Committee about the company’s failure to meet bench marks for hiring minorities and Chicago residents in the first two phases of the northeast cargo expansion project, leading to a delay on the vote.

Southwest Side Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, called the letter an overreach.

“What’s next, are they going to threaten us, if you don’t vote for our settlements, we’re going to hold you responsible if the family sues us?” said Lopez, a frequent Lightfoot critic.

In a written statement, Law Department spokeswoman Kathleen Fieweger said, “As the letter states, some recent events have caused concern. We believe it was an appropriate time for a reminder to City Council members about their fiduciary duties to the City.”

Twitter @royalpratt


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