Ald. Braithwaite not found in violation of Code of Ethics


Emma Edmund/Daily Senior Staffer

Albert Gibbs and Trisha Connolly. The two filed a complaint against Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) based on comments he made at July 15’s City Council meeting.

Emma Edmund, Assistant City Editor

The Evanston Board of Ethics found Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) did not violate the city’s Code of Ethics at Tuesday’s meeting.

Evanston residents Trisha Connolly and Albert Gibbs accused Braithwaite of an abuse of power of office, a breach of impartiality and intimidation by a public official based on comments he made at the July 15 City Council meeting.

During that meeting, aldermen discussed a proposal to censure City Clerk Devon Reid, and some residents said racism fueled the city’s actions toward Reid, who is black.

Braithwaite expressed frustration with white people talking about racism.

“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 that you just came up with,” Braithwaite said during the 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.”

Gibbs, who is black, and Connolly, who is white, filed the complaint on Aug. 5.

Connolly and Gibbs said Braithwaite’s comments undermine support for the black community.

“This is not a complaint wrapped in white tears,” Connolly said. “It is an effort to address the use of elected power to undermine support of the black community by telling white people to step back when they’re acting in solidarity with black people and black causes in Evanston.”

Originally, C. Shawn Jones, Braithwaite’s attorney, filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing evidence the case was just an example of “white fragility.” The concept was described by Weinberg Prof. José Medina in an email as when white people take a person of color’s criticism of their use of the term racism as “scorning, ridiculing, or intimidating.”

The board ultimately denied the motion to dismiss the case.

The board decided that Braithwaite could not have abused his power of office because an abuse would require a link between the alderman’s statement to some transaction, of which the board found no evidence.

The board also unanimously found no evidence of intimidation by a public official, based on the Code of Ethics.

On the final allegation, a breach of impartiality, the board was divided 3-1 in favor of Braithwaite. The Code of Ethics currently states an alderman has to be impartial while performing his or her duties.

Jennifer Billingsley, the chair of the Board of Ethics, said Braithwaite’s statements, even if they “slap you in the face,” were not enough to constitute a violation of impartiality. She said that in the past, the board has looked at cases that have involved a larger course of conduct, including emails, multiple conversations and other events as evidence of partiality. She said everyone comes in with some bias and prejudice, and at the end of the day, impartiality rests on actions.

“We do want to have full and frank discussion and encourage discourse,” Billingsley said. “I regret that Ald. Braithwaite’s discussion was to encourage people, not to talk about it, but once again I think people aren’t going to agree on this issue, and they’re going to say the wrong thing and to me, there has to be more than just a statement at the end of a long meeting.”

Board member L.J. Ellul, however, was not convinced. She said the context of the comments, made by Braithwaite at City Council and from the dais, and to whom the comments were made, constituted “performance of duties,” and therefore proved he was being partial.

Billingsley said the board will now form its advisory opinion for the Rules Committee to review. The opinion will not recommend further action, according to Billingsley.

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