Former alderman Arena resigns from city job just months after being hired
by BRIAN NADIG
Former 45th Ward alderman John Arena is resigning from his nearly $124,000-a year deputy commissioner post in Mayor Lightfoot’s administration.
Arena, who started the position on Sept. 30, will stay on the job through Friday, Jan. 17, according to a spokesman for the city Department of Planning and Development, which oversees zoning matters. The department accepted his resignation in late December, the spokesman said.
“The department thanks Mr. Arena for his service and wishes him well in his future endeavors,” the spokesman said.
News of Arena’s resignation comes two weeks after reports that he may have engaged in politics at a Dec. 17 community meeting which current 45th Ward Alderman Jim Gardiner held in the auditorium at Schurz High School, 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave. The meeting featured a presentation on a zoning proposal for the former Sears Department Store site at 4730 W. Irving Park Road.
Arena was seen collecting petition signatures for a judicial candidate outside the entrance to the auditorium.
In addition, Gardiner said that Arena was spotted outside the auditorium and in its entryway apparently holding campaign literature for committeewoman candidate Ellen Hill, who has been endorsed by Arena and is running against Gardiner. Arena is the current committeeman but is not seeking re-election.
In a Dec. 20 statement, the department said, “The allegations, which the former alderman denies, are unacceptable for a professional civil servant. The Department of Planning and Development has addressed this matter internally.”
Arena, who in November collected petition signatures for Hill, had announced that he would be holding a Jan. 10 fundraiser for Hill, but Arena’s name recently was removed from a flier for the event.
Gardiner said that when Arena was hired, the mayor’s office and planning department told him that Arena would not be interfering with ward issues but that Arena has been politically active in the ward in recent months and that his actions at the meeting were inappropriate.
“It’s a direct conflict of interest,” Gardiner said last month. “How can I in good faith work with the department if its deputy commissioner is going to actively work against me.”
Gardiner also has expressed concern that Arena played a role in organizing a group which at the meeting asked questions critical of his handling of development matters.
A photograph shows a list of prepared questions with the names of who was assigned to read each question. A resident who read one of the questions has denied that Arena was involved in preparing the questions and said that the questions were scripted in advance to avoid repetition and to make sure key issues were covered.
On Friday evening Gardiner issued the following statement: “My focus has always been and remains providing constituent services to the residents of the 45 th Ward. My passion to serve our community is ever growing and will be derailed by no one person or group!”