Ethics board to examine complaint against Braithwaite


Daily file photo by Emma Edmund

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) at a City Council meeting. Two residents accused Braithwaite of abuse of power, intimidation and lack of impartiality in a complaint to the ethics board.

Samantha Handler, City Editor

Evanston’s Board of Ethics will hear a complaint Tuesday against Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) that alleges he “scorned and ridiculed” white residents during a City Council meeting.

Residents Trisha Connolly, who is white, and Albert Gibbs, who is black, filed the complaint on Aug. 5, accusing Braithwaite of violating three provisions in the city’s Code of Ethics: abuse of power of office, intimidation by a public official and impartiality. The complaint followed a July 15 City Council meeting when Braithwaite expressed frustration with white residents talking about racism.

During the meeting, before aldermen discussed a proposal from Mayor Steve Hagerty to censure City Clerk Devon Reid for the workplace environment complaints against him, residents during public comment said racism fueled the city’s actions against Reid, who is black.

“I really sit here and have a difficult time when I hear white folks admonishing me and using the word racism like it’s some coin phrase you just came up with,” Braithwaite said at the July 15 meeting. “Unless you’ve walked in my shoes or any one of us blacks sitting back here I suggest you keep that to yourself. You want to have that conversation internally. I’m a big fan of that, internal versus external conversations. Do that.”

Braithwaite’s attorney C. Shawn Jones said the complaint is not an ethics board issue. He encouraged residents who disagree with the alderman to speak out at public comment.

“If you don’t like something an alderman says, run against him,” Jones said. “It’s not a Code of Ethics issue.”

At a Sept. 17 Ethics Board meeting, the committee found it had jurisdiction over the complaint and would conduct a full hearing Oct. 15.

The board initially found jurisdiction at a previous meeting, but due to logistical errors it had to use the September meeting to redo the process. Residents said they were unhappy with how the board handled the rescheduling, adding that they discovered shortly before the meeting that it would not be a hearing on the complaint.

“You’re just whipping us around, the citizenry,” resident Clare Kelly said at the Sept. 17 meeting. “I’m appalled. This is really disgusting.”

In the complaint, Connolly and Gibbs said Braithwaite’s behavior was “uncivil and hostile” because they believe he “mocked, ridiculed and intimidated” residents from the dais.

The complaint also said after City Council ended on July 15, a white resident approached Braithwaite, and the alderman told him to “shut up, just shut up.” Connolly and Gibbs said in the complaint that they question the intention and goal of Braithwaite’s “spiteful comments” from the dais.

“We can’t help but wonder if perhaps Mr. Braithwaite wasn’t doing the bidding of those who want to undermine support given to aggrieved Black community members and to weaken their cause and broader support,” the complaint said. “He seemed intent on casting a chill and fear among white people who sympathize with Black residents’ concerns and speak in support.”

The board will determine if Braithwaite violated the city’s ethics code at the Tuesday meeting.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @sn_handler