Chicago aldermen are in for a dizzying schedule of back-to-back committee meetings before the full council meeting Wednesday.
Newly installed Finance Committee Chair Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, is having his members come to City Hall an hour early to reconsider a vote on a $3.7 million legal settlement.
On Tuesday, aldermen on that committee rejected a multimillion dollar payout in a roll call vote. Aldermen who voted no, like Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, expressed outrage the city was on the hook for an accident that appeared to be caused by a drunk driver. The vote ended with 13 no votes to 8 in favor.
In 2014, a driver went off an embankment and into the Chicago River. One passenger was paralyzed, and another’s thumb was severed. The three passengers already settled with the bar and the promotion company that the driver, Philip Cho, worked for, getting about $1 million.
The city was brought into litigation because of a faulty barricade that separated a side street and the river.
The plaintiffs alleged the intersection was “improperly designed and maintained,” city lawyer Katie Hill told aldermen. “Such that the configuration created an optical illusion, which led Cho to believe he was entering an expressway ramp, and that the city had insufficient concrete barriers to prevent his car from leaving the roadway.”
“Their bad decisions, their bad choices should not put our taxpayers on the hook for $4 million because they thought they saw a mirage of a ramp that didn’t exist because they were intoxicated,” Ald. Lopez said ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
Waguespack recessed the finance committee meeting to Wednesday morning to give members an opportunity to reconsider the vote. The plaintiffs originally sought $25 million from the city. If the council affirms the no vote, the case could go to trial, potentially putting the city in line to pay the original demand.
After the meeting, Lopez suggested that Waguespack should not have asked for a roll call vote if he wasn’t sure of the outcome. He said that would have not have happened when Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward, was Finance Committee chair. Burke relinquished that power in January after a federal complaint accused him of attempted extortion. Burke has since been indicted and faces additional federal charges, including racketeering and bribery.
“There’s a difference between roughly $3 million and $25 million, and I think everybody that’s looking at this wants to protect the taxpayers despite the facts of the case,” Waguespack said after the meeting.
In 2016, the city took a similar case to trial and lost. Twenty-five-year-old fashion model Irma Sabanovic died when she drove past a dead-end street and plunged into the river. Her car and body were found nine days later. Her family won a $12.5 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city.
Four other settlements advanced out of the Finance Committee and will go to the full council Wednesday. Three involve the Chicago Police Department. One involves a tourist who rolled her ankle on a downtown stairwell heading towards Lower North Michigan Avenue.
As for other committees: the council’s Zoning Committee hasn’t met since Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, took over as chairman. He scheduled a 9:30 a.m. committee meeting Wednesday. Only one item is on the agenda: the appointment of Mayor Lori Lightfoot to the Public Building Commission. The mayor serves as a voting member of the PBC, a sister agency that oversees city-led construction projects.
The mayor’s picks for corporation counsel, budget director and housing commissioner await approval from the full City Council.
Marisa Novara, formerly with the Metropolitan Planning Council, was selected by the mayor to oversee the resurrected Department of Housing. It was previously a bureau within the Department of Planning and Development.
Mark Flessner, a former partner at the international law firm Holland & Knight, is Lightfoot’s choice to be the city’s top lawyer.
Susie Park is the mayor’s pick for budget director.