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Failure to Act

By Jorge Casuso

June 28 -- It was one of the most dramatic failures to make a motion in recent City Council history. With only five members initially present, the council failed to act on an appeal to a Landmarks Commission decision to designate the beach cottage at 2219 Ocean Avenue a City landmark.

Following is an edited transcript of the strange hearing that saw one council member walk out in protest amidst allegations that moving ahead with a hearing was unfair.

Mayor Pro tem Herb Katz, who was chairing the meeting: We are not a full council tonight. Any action is going to take four votes.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie: The rules require four votes to continue.

Council member Bob Holbrook: The appellant has requested this should be continued.

Council member Ken Genser: We’re here tonight because the appellant couldn’t make it last time. . . . This has already been continued. Do you (the appellant) keep asking for a continuance until you get the combination of council members that you want?

Holbrook: I hope it comes down to fair play. When you have five people, two people can control the outcome, and I don’t think that should be the intent.

Council member Kevin McKeown: I think we should be extra careful to listen. . . but we shouldn’t continue (the item).

Katz: We should have at least six.

Pam O’Connor: I’ll see you later. (She gets up and leaves.)

Katz: You’re down to four. Now we have a problem. . . . We have four council members for the rest of the evening. At the moment do we have a motion?

Holbrook: It just isn’t fair to the process.

The council votes on a motion to continue, but the motions fail on a 2 to 2 vote, with Katz and Holbrook favoring the motion and Genser and McKeown opposing it.

Chris Harding, the attorney for the appellant, the University of Illinois Foundation: The council has never denied a continuance with four council members present, never in my 30 years of experience here. I want that on the record. I think it’s fundamentally unfair at 5, and it’s especially unfair at 4.

Genser: I would agree that when we normally have four we would continue, but this is a different situation. I can’t speak exactly to why she (O’Connor) wanted to leave. She disagreed with this and wanted to force a continuance of the matter and walked out. I don’t know for certain, but that’s what it certainly looked like. I think it’s worse that we have gotten into the position that one council member, by deciding to walk out, change the outcome of the meeting. I think we are forced to hear this.

After testimony from Hardimg, consultants and neighbors backing the landmark designation, the council deliberated on the matter.

Katz: The matter is before the council. You all want to go home?

Holbrook: I’m not one to walk out on a meeting because I disagree with the vote and our procedures. . . .

Katz: Neither is Pam. She’s back. (O’Connor takes her seat on the dais.)

Holbrook: . . . but I also don’t believe in winning at any cost, and I don’t believe we offered the appellant a fair hearing, because there are so few here tonight. . . . Earlier today, I was disposed to save the cottage, but I don’t want to cast a vote on this at all. Maybe it’s my ethics. . . . I just don’t want to be a part of it.

Katz: Anybody want to make a motion? (He waits. No one does.) Folks, we can sit here all night.

Genser: I disagree about the fairness issue. I think on balance we proceeded in the correct way.

O’Connor: I listened to the public hearing, by the way. Frankly, I think if six of us would have been here. . . . it would have remained a landmark. I think the council acted unfairly. Having a fair process is critical.

Katz: For a moment, I thought of leaving the dais myself, which would have broken a quorum, and I just couldn’t do that. I think we as a council did not act fairly. We needed six members here, and we didn’t get that. I think it’s a shame. As for the building itself, I think it could have gone either way.

No motion is made.

Katz: For the public, they’re looking at us like, what did you just do?

Moutrie: A failure to take any action means the landmarks decision stands. The appellant has made it clear they intend to pursue litigation.

Katz: What we have done is take no action. The landmarks decision holds. It is a landmark.

The audience applauds.


"I don’t believe in winning at any cost. I don't want to be a part of it."
Bob Holbrook


"Do you keep asking for a continuance until you get the combination of council members that you want?"
Ken Genser




"The council has never denied a continuance with four council members present, never in my 30 years of experience here."
Chris Harding


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