Dozens of government workers, including firefighters, and retired teachers faced scrutiny from Arena’s office for their social media comments
Editor’s note: This is an update from a Feb. 8 story on complaints which Alderman Arena’s office filed against police officers. Watch for additional updates in the next few days.
by BRIAN NADIG
Recently released documents from the City of Chicago show that Alderman John Arena’s office collected information about dozens of active or retired government workers who reportedly made social media comments against a controversial mixed-income housing proposal for 5150 N. Northwest Hwy.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the city released a spreadsheet reportedly put together by Arena’s staff that shows the occupations of the individuals. They include firefighters, police officers, a city water management worker, a Chicago Park District employee, a Chicago Public Library worker, an aviation department truck driver and several retired school teachers.
The document also includes the names of about 70 individuals, but the city redacted about half of the names because the Civilian Office of Police Accountability has an ongoing investigation against the officers for their alleged comments, which Arena has described as being perceived as “dehumanizing” by some members of the community.
Arena said last month that his office filed the complaints with the accountability office after consulting with the city’s Inspector General office. Arena’s office also had consulted on the matter with the Anti-Defamation League.
While it has been known for months that Arena’s office was collecting information and preparing possible complaints against police officers, the recently released documents show that Arena’s staff also raised concerns about other city workers to the inspector general or other agencies.
The spreadsheet shows that information was gathered from the Better Government Association on the current employment status of the individuals. About 15 of the them are retired, according to the spreadsheet.
One of the workers said that Arena’s staff “carefully cataloged every government worker who opposed his development” and “shopped these complaints around to the ADL, then to the IG’s office, then finally to the individuals’ departments … (they) work for.”
Many of those on the list expressed crime-related concerns about the proposed housing complex at Northwest Highway and Milwaukee Avenue and were critical of the alderman and subsidized housing.
A poster on a police blog recently compared the Arena’s complaints as a “witch hunt” against the free speech rights of officers.
Arena has said that the comments violated rules of conduct for police officers and that he had an obligation to report the officers.
A lawsuit challenging a settlement agreement which helped lead to the housing proposal is still pending. The property owner, LSC Development, sued the city after Arena had the property downzoned to prevent only a storage warehouse from being built there, and LSC later decided to sell half of the land to housing developer Full Circle Communities. (The settlement agreement did not require LSC to sell to Full Circle, which had been looking for possible development sites in the area. Arena had said that a storage warehouse by itself would do little to revitalize the area.)
Full Circle is seeking financing for the project, which calls for 75 apartments, and reportedly has until June to purchase the southern half of the parcel from LSC. The self-storage facility is being built on the northern half.