Fraternal Order of Police files complaint against Ald. Arena with Inspector General
by BRIAN NADIG
The Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7 has filed a complaint with the city Inspector General alleging that Alderman John Arena (45th) has been harassing city workers by filing “false complaints” against them in an attempt to silence their opposition to a mixed-income housing proposal in Jefferson Park.
“Unfortunately, instead of making his argument and convincing the opposition in the marketplace of ideas, he has taken a different approach. My clients believe that Alderman Arena has attempted to undermine their First Amendment rights by employing illegal and coercive tactics,” FOP attorney Tim Grace said in a statement.
Arena has alleged that the social media comments made by the workers were “racially charged” and should be investigated for code of conduct violations based on their employment requirements as a police officer or other government worker. Several of the workers were critical of Arena, and others made comparisons of the housing proposal at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. to Cabrini Green, a subsidized housing complex which the city had demolished in 2011.
Arena reportedly told a police officer in a Facebook message that he wants “to fire the bigots like you,” prompting the officer to later file a police report against Arena for alleged “cyberstalking.” The officer claimed that she has told the alderman on several occasions to stop messaging her.
In his statement, Grace also alleged that in August of 2017 “individuals aligned with Arena” may have recorded the license plates of city employees who oppose the project and that “Secretary of State records indicate that three plates were in fact run through a law enforcement data systems.” Grace charged that the use of the data system may have been illegal, and the Illinois State Police reportedly is looking into who ran the plates.
Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh called the license plate allegation “absurd” and “preposterous” and said that all of the FOP’s complaints will be dismissed.
Brugh said that the FOP’s charge of “false complaints” being made by Arena to the inspector general’s office makes no sense given that the IG office felt the matter had enough merit to be taken to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability for further review. It is believed that about 30 police officers were reported to the accountability office, while about 15 firefighters were reported to the Chicago Fire Department’s Internal Affairs Division. A spreadsheet maintained by Arena’s office indicates that at least 70 current and retired government workers were being monitored for their comments against the housing proposal.
One of the city workers on the spreadsheet expressed doubt that the inspector general’s office carefully considered Arena’s complaints. He said that complaints against police officers are routinely investigated by the accountability office, not by the inspector general.
Another worker on the list said that the intent of Arena’s complaints is to silence government workers by putting their jobs at risk even though the zoning process is intended to be a public one in which all area residents should be allowed to comment on. She said that Arena’s complaints seem to falsely assume that any criticism of subsidized housing is racist.
Grace also charged that Arena violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
Arena keeps his ward advisory committee meetings closed to the public, but in response to a complaint from the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, the Illinois Attorney General’s office has ruled that an elected official by him- or herself does not constitute a government body and is not subject to the open meetings act.