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Council gives itself power to take control of ShotSpotter, defies Johnson campaign promise

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Chicago aldermen voted Wednesday to take control over the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system’s future out of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s hands in a bid to stop him from deactivating it.

The 34 to 14 vote to give the City Council final say over the mayor’s cancellation plans sharply defies Johnson, who campaigned on the promise of getting rid of the controversial and expensive technology.

Under the order that passed Wednesday, the pact with ShotSpotter is now subject to an up-or-down council vote before it can be terminated. It is not clear how the new rule will be applied to a deal the mayor already announced will end, however, especially since Johnson has suggested it’s illegal for aldermen to try to exert such authority over a city contract.

After the meeting, Johnson did not answer directly when asked if he would veto the measure, which in any event passed with a veto-proof majority. But he said the order “did nothing” because the City Council “does not have executive authority.”

“This passage, whatever it was, has no bearing on my executive authority” to cancel the ShotSpotter contract, Johnson said. “It doesn’t make any sense, frankly.”

Several aldermen made a last-second effort to send the order back to committee for further consideration, some arguing it has questionable legal standing and may fail to effectively secure ShotSpotter’s future.

Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, who led the push to try to stall a vote on the order, called on the council to consider other technologies besides ShotSpotter, a system ardently opposed by Johnson that he said the mayor will ultimately block.

“This is about trying to get the best for our citizens,” Ervin said. “We have got to get beyond one piece of technology if the goal is to make the city of Chicago safer.”

Chicago Aldermen Jason Ervin (28th), left, and Walter Burnett (27th) watch as the council votes to take control over decision to terminate the city's contract with ShotSpotter during a meeting of the Chicago City Council on May 22, 2024. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)
Chicago Aldermen Jason Ervin (28th), left, and Walter Burnett (27th) watch as the council votes to take control over decision to terminate the city’s contract with ShotSpotter during a meeting of the Chicago City Council on May 22, 2024. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)

But stalwart ShotSpotter supporters who expected the order to easily pass angrily challenged the proposed delay. The order would only give aldermen the ability to vote over ShotSpotter’s tenure in the future with better data, said its sponsor, Ald. David Moore, 17th.

“It just blows my mind,” Moore said. “You’re voting against having a voice for your constituents.”

Ald. Peter Chico, 10th, a former police officer, told his fellow aldermen he knew ShotSpotter better than any of them.

“I’ve used ShotSpotter. I’ve seen what happens. I’ve seen it works,” Chico said, recalling the technology helping him find wounded gunshot victims despite no one calling 911. “That body that I saw there, many, many times, we cannot put a price tag on that.”

Council breaks from mayor again over CTA president’s future

The City Council flashed its growing independence again Wednesday by introducing an ordinance calling for Johnson to fire Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter. Carter has faced mounting pressure from commuters in recent months as the CTA continues to struggle with quality, hiring and impending financial crisis, but Johnson has so far declined to discuss Carter’s future.

CTA President Dorval Carter appears before the City Council at the City Hall Chambers, on Feb. 27, 2024, as part of a quarterly hearing on CTA services. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)
CTA President Dorval Carter appears before the City Council at the City Hall Chambers, on Feb. 27, 2024, as part of a quarterly hearing on CTA services. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

Twenty-nine out of 50 aldermen co-sponsored the resolution authored by Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th. But Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, and Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, used a legislative maneuver to send the resolution to the council’s Rules Committee, delaying its movement through the body and likely passage.

The council was set for another tense transportation-focused moment to vote on the appointment of West Side Pastor Rev. Ira Acree to the Regional Transportation Authority’s board, but Acree’s nomination was instead withheld from consideration. Johnson decided to pull it back, he said, to “give people more time to have inquiry.”

“All of my nominations, whether they are commissioners, other appointments, we are batting a thousand,” Johnson said. “The best and the brightest, the people who are most connected, again, to the pain that have solutions.”

The Johnson nominee drew scrutiny earlier this month when he struggled to answer basic questions about the RTA during a Transportation committee and said he did not know about the upcoming $730 million budget gap the financial oversight body is facing.

Progressive allies of the mayor also introduced an ordinance Wednesday seeking to establish a citywide referendum that, if successful, would make a police oversight board whose members are appointed by the mayor instead almost fully elected. The proposal was also sent to the Rules committee.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th, said he hopes the referendum appears on the November election ballot and has not yet heard from Johnson on the proposal that would take power away from the mayor’s office. If the referendum gets on the ballot and passes, the mostly-elected board powers would include setting the Police Department’s budget, hiring and firing superintendents and bargaining police union contracts.

Zoning Board gets long-awaited appointment

Also Wednesday, aldermen approved Johnson’s first appointee to the Zoning Board of Appeals, a government board that controls major development decisions in the city. Adrian Soto, the executive director of the Greater Southwest Development Corporation, cleared the final hurdle without pushback.

However, Johnson’s second appointee introduced last month, Vaishali Rao, withdrew her candidacy “due to the time commitment,” according to Department of Planning and Development spokesman Peter Strazzabosco. She will remain an alternate member of the board, which still has a vacancy more than a year after the Johnson administration came into office.

Mayor Brandon Johnson presides over the city council meeting at City Hall on May 22, 2024. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)
Mayor Brandon Johnson presides over the city council meeting at City Hall on May 22, 2024. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

At the start of Johnson’s term last May, the five-member panel had one unfilled seat, from when Ald. Timmy Knudsen, 43rd, was appointed to City Council by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot in fall 2022. The lack of urgency to fill that spot in the past year cost the Johnson’s administration a high-profile vote in February, when the ZBA tied 2-2 on a proposed homeless shelter in Uptown. Every ZBA proposal requires at least three votes to advance, and an alternate member cannot fill a vacancy.

Since then, ZBA member Sam Toia resigned in March, leaving another vacancy. Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, told the Tribune the decision was “100% my call” ahead of his term expiring in July.

Aldermen were set to consider an ordinance from Ald. Bill Conway, 34th, aimed at quieting anti-abortion protests outside a West Loop clinic, but the legislation was stalled using legislative maneuvers by Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, and Ald. Nick Sposato, 38th.

“Do not worry,” Conway told fellow aldermen after the stall tactic. “This delay will not stand, and this will pass.”

The ordinance would block the use of noise-making devices outside the clinic, which Conway said had been used to disrupt health care inside and harass arriving patients.

Finally, Johnson at his post-Council presser gave his most strident endorsement yet of reinstating ally Ramirez-Rosa on his council leadership team. The alderman had resigned from his plum Zoning Committee chairmanship last fall amid bullying allegations, but colleagues have whispered for months that the Johnson administration indicated it was angling to restore him to some committee post.

“First of all, Ald. Ramirez Rosa is a leader. He’s one of my strongest allies and what he has done in City Council over the course of his time is remarkable,” the mayor said, citing the need to demonstrate “restorative justice” practices. “The body made a commitment to his restoration. And so we’re going to continue to have conversations to ensure that his restoration is complete.”

It was not clear what “commitment” Johnson was referring to, as the council remains fiercely at odds over who should lead the influential Zoning Committee.

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