Cue up the calliope. The city council is in session.
By virtue of remaining silent for the duration of Tuesday’s Springfield city council meeting, Ward 4 Ald. Frank Lesko, Ward 6 Ald. Cory Jobe and Ward 9 Ald. Steven Dove proved themselves the smartest of the bunch.
There were ordinary people at the confab, but their troubles could wait until the end of the meeting that showed why the commission form of government wasn’t necessarily a bad idea.
It began with a back-and-forth between Mayor Mike Houston and Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin about a new contract for firefighters. McMenamin always votes against contracts that contain raises, which means that he votes against every collective bargaining agreement, and he always gets on the stump when he does it. Tuesday’s histrionics were a bit above par, as was Houston’s defense, but it was nonetheless old hat.
Then things got weird.
The council was getting ready to go into executive session to talk about giving Calvin Christian III and his lawyers nearly $105,000 to settle Christian’s Shredgate lawsuit. Lack of emergency notwithstanding, the proposed settlement was on the agenda for emergency passage instead of going through the usual slog, so this emergency-that-wasn’t needed eight votes instead of a simple majority. The Chicago Cubs have a better shot at winning the Stanley Cup – getting five votes is going to be tough enough.
Before the council could run for the back room, attorney Jon Gray Noll, who is defending the city in the Shredgate lawsuit, rose and said that he had just discovered that Ward 5 Ald. Sam Cahnman, a lawyer, is representing Christian in one of a kazillion traffic tickets Christian has received from Springfield cops. In typical fashion, Christian has sued in federal court, claiming that police are punishing him because he keeps asking for internal affairs files. Noll, who is also defending the city in the federal matter, told the council he was reviewing Christian’s docket sheet late Monday when he saw that Cahnman is a lawyer for Christian. Cahnman, Noll opined, cannot represent the interests of Christian while also representing the city’s interests in a lawsuit filed by Christian.
Anyone who can name all of Calvin Christian’s attorneys should be a “Jeopardy” contestant, but some council members smelled a rat.
“Obviously, Mr. Noll knew about it before tonight,” thundered Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner. “You found out about it late yesterday, it’s still something that should have been brought up before. It just seems to me this whole gotcha thing is very disturbing, it’s very childish and it’s very inappropriate.”
Noll explained that he telephoned Cahnman on Tuesday and also sent him an email in hopes of meeting with the alderman before the council meeting. Cahnman said that he didn’t know why Noll was trying to get in touch with him and that Noll should have detailed the issue in an email or phone message.
Acting corporation counsel John Mehlick, who’s had a front-row seat in the Big Top at 800 East Monroe Street since last summer, told the council that the conflict was real.
“Why didn’t we discuss this in executive session, then?” Turner snapped. “All of that could have been discussed in executive session.”
Really? Questions of ethics and conflicts of interest, real or perceived, by elected officials should be talked about behind closed doors?
“I think the public has a right to know,” replied Mehlick, who by now had the 1,000-yard-stare of someone halfway through the Bataan Death March.
Ultimately, Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards pointed out the obvious: There was no need for any of this, given that there weren’t enough votes to pass the measure, and so the council moved on to another non-emergency that was up for emergency passage. This time it was an ordinance to establish an internship program for minorities, with the city ponying up $20,000 in a partnership with Sangamon County and Hanson Professional Services.
What’s the emergency? The mayor explained that U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, have scheduled a Dec. 16 press conference, apparently to help the city bask in the glow of good deeds, so the council needed to take action now.
It passed on a unanimous vote.
With that, the council meeting wound to a close, but not before civilians who had sat through the hour-long meeting asked if something could be done about the loud bar in their neighborhood. They presented the council with a petition containing nearly 100 signatures. There was no action or discussion.
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.