Aldermen vote against censure of Rainey following ethics violations


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) at a city meeting. Council members on Monday voted against Rainey’s censure following her involvement in the Harley Clarke demolition efforts.

Kristina Karisch and Cassidy Wang

Aldermen voted against the censure of Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) at a Monday Rules Committee meeting, following findings by the Board of Ethics that Rainey had violated the city’s ethics code on three counts.

The violations concern Rainey’s involvement with the demolition efforts for the Harley Clarke Mansion, located in north Evanston. Rainey, who supported the demolition when aldermen voted for it in July, was found in violation of the ethics code’s impartiality clause and as having abused her power as an elected official. The board then recommended Rainey recuse herself from any future votes pertaining to Harley Clarke.

The board’s findings constitute an advisory opinion and are not legally binding.

Rainey, who sits on the Rules Committee, had recused herself from the discussion surrounding the board’s findings. But when aldermen ultimately voted to place the memorandum on file — effectively stopping any future action on the subject and preventing censure — Rainey voted in favor of the motion, breaking the tie to swing the vote in her favor.

Corporation counsel Michelle Masoncup told members of council on Monday that there is no rule in place which prohibits aldermen from voting on a complaint filed against them.

Mayor Steve Hagerty voted against filing the motion on Monday, though he said he doesn’t think the council “should deny constituents of (Rainey’s) ward a vote on Harley Clarke.”

“I am supportive of censuring Ald. Rainey as a firm message that she must modify her behavior to fit in with the standards of others on this council,” Hagerty said. “While I resent that Ald. Rainey has not personally apologized to her colleagues up here for getting us into this situation … to disenfranchise the residents of the 8th Ward is undemocratic.”

The board’s findings come from two complaints that were filed against Rainey and detail involvement with the group Evanston Lighthouse Dunes, a group of private donors who entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the city regarding the Harley Clarke demolition.

The first complaint against Rainey was filed by Nancy Sreenan, an Evanston resident who supports the restoration of the mansion, and alleges that Rainey improperly forwarded Sreenan’s email urging City Council members to oppose the mansion’s demolition.

After review, the board found Rainey lacked impartiality because of the “disparaging comments” she made about Sreenan in emails exchanged with members of the Evanston Lighthouse Dunes group. However, forwarding the emails was not found to be a violation of the Code of Ethics because the email was considered public.

The second complaint was filed by Evanston residents Clare Kelly and Lori Keenan, who raised six joining claims against Rainey, two of which the board did not have jurisdiction over. The claims alleged that Rainey solicited funds for the dunes group using her city email, as well as mocked Keenan when she allegedly told her “f–k you” and “don’t mess with me” following an Election Board meeting in August.

Aldermen focused on the board’s findings of partiality during the meeting, arguing that their job inherently requires them to be partial, and that Rainey taking a stance on Harley Clarke simply means she is doing her job.

“Our job is not to be impartial,” said Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd). “Someone could just as easily have brought an ethics complaint against me because I have signaled, spoken, advocated, talked at my town hall meetings, spoken to people on the street, emailed people on my position on Harley Clarke. Part of our job up here is to advocate to each one of our other members of the council in order to gather the votes we need to pass something.”

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) said she agrees with the other aldermen on the issue of impartiality.

However, she said aldermen should be partial only to an extent, and not help one group more than another. She criticized the fact that Rainey’s emails specifically “(helped) fundraise and build a case for one group.”

“I try to have opinions that are fair and I try to not help one person more than I help another and I think that for me, that becomes an issue when we look at the emails,” Fleming said.

Revisions to the code

In addition to filing the memorandum from the Board of Ethics, aldermen also said they would re-examine the code itself at an upcoming rules committee meeting.

Masoncup said the City Code, as it currently reads, states that those found in violation of the Code of Ethics “may be subject to censure, suspension, removal from office or employment, or any other disciplinary action that is determined appropriate by city authority,” but that threats of suspension and higher-level disciplinary action are typically reserved for employees, not elected officials.

Some aldermen suggested the code be rewritten to have two separate types of consequences for ethics violations — one for elected officials and another for employees. They also addressed the fact that aldermen accused of ethics violations are still able to vote on their own recusal.

Masoncup said if there is a conflict of interest, the elected official is expected to recognize the conflict of interest and recuse from the vote, “but the Council doesn’t have the power to mandate to act on it.”

Fleming said she thinks the code should be rewritten to provide ethics board members with “greater clarity.”

“Unfortunately, now I think we’re in a space where we realize that in hindsight, so shame on us for that,” Fleming said.

Aldermen will review the code at a January Rules Committee meeting.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @kristinakarisch

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @cassidyw_