I’ve attended quite a few public meetings in my day.
I’ve attended meetings where there were more police officers than people who might potentially disrupt a meeting.
I’ve attended meetings where I thought the crowd might truly get violent.
I’ve attended meetings where City Councilors weren’t listening, or where city officials were busy texting.
But — before last night — I had never attended a meeting where dozens of people were told, to their faces, that their testimony was irrelevant and unwanted, and were regularly interrupted by the chairs to “stay on topic.”
We — and there were dozens of us — were told that we were here for the host community agreement only. We should only talk about mitigation monies.
After I spoke, Councilor Rushton reminded the attendees that we should stay focused on the goal of the meeting: to discuss mitigation. It would not be the last time he reminded us to focus.
But we were focused.
We were focused on the well-being of our city.
We refused to be part of a process that is geared to benefit an out-of-state company, and which takes away our right to speak our mind.
We refused to be part of a process that asks us how much we should be compensated for something that will rip apart our community.
We refused to be part of a process that asks us to comment on a proposal for which no one knows the details, not even where the hotel will be.
We were told that if we did not draft a host community agreement, that the Mass Gaming Commission would create one for us.
This is just not true.
Tonight, after Colin Novick asked many pointed questions of our city officials, we finally got clarification on what is required.
According to City Solicitor David Moore, “there’s no requirement that a host community ever sign an agreement with an applicant.”
So — Councilor Rushton then suggested that “as a Council, we should take a vote as to whether [the city manager] should go forward on negotiations.”
He also said that “nobody’s right to express their opinion is going to be hampered by it going before the people.”
Councilor Rushton obviously had no problem hampering people’s opinions last night, when he — probably out of ignorance — told people that they should focus on mitigation only.
He stated that “people who are against gaming are going to want you to veto the people’s power now.”
But the opponents of gaMBLing –let’s call it what it is, this isn’t tiddlywinks — were not the ones banging a gavel when people spoke, or interrupting their testimony. That was Councilor Rushton’s co-chair, Bill Eddy.
We live in a representative form of government. When the Council has a TIF before them, they never argue that the people need to vote on it. When they are willing to take away people’s right to assemble or speak freely, or pass breed-specific legislation, they never consider the testimony of dozens of people who speak out against it.
So let’s not pretend that certain members of the City Council — and especially D5 Councilor Bill Eddy — really care about the democratic process.
Councilor Eddy, who says “I never take a position on something until I actually see a plan in front of me,” but who expects people to testify about mitigation for something that has no plan.
He moved to authorize the manager to negotiate a host agreement to put before the people. Councilor Lukes held it under privilege.
So — at the April 23 City Council meeting, they will be voting on whether or not the City Manager should negotiate a host agreement with Rush Gaming.
You need to show up at this meeting.
Next Wednesday, April 17, at 7:00pm in City Hall, there will be a second hearing on the slots parlor.
You need to show up at that meeting, too.
It is just that simple. You need to show up.
The one city councilor who is absolutely committed to making sure that people never get a say is accusing us — the people who regularly let people know about meetings that affect them, who encourage people to participate in government and the community at large, and who actively work to make this city a little better every day — of not wanting a democratic process.
We weren’t the ones who ran a meeting that didn’t tell people what their true options as a community are, and who misinformed them about what the Mass Gaming Commission can do.
We weren’t the ones who said that people should “focus” on money and not on their community’s well-being.
And we certainly weren’t the ones who interrupted and yelled at people to stop testifying at a public meeting.
What we are asking is that our leaders, for once, act like leaders.
As Colin said so eloquently tonight:
This isn’t about some claim to a democratic process.
YOU were duly elected by the people.
YOU were sworn in to represent your constituents.
Passing the buck on this IS NOT about democratic process.
Passing the buck on this is all about letting Chicago slot money decide the fate of our community.
I’ll leave it with Colin:[youtube:http://youtu.be/yog8esJfUeQ%5D