City drops Six Corners Chamber as service provider for SSA due to management issue, but Ald. Gardiner, chamber claim politics at play; management restriction left out of 2022 contract after being in 2021 service agreement
by BRIAN NADIG
The city Department of Planning and Development has removed the Six Corners Chamber of Commerce as service provider for the Six Corners Special Service Area, whose $260,000 budget is funded through a tax primarily on commercial properties.
In a statement, the department claims that the decision was made because of the involvement of a chamber member who had been prohibited from managing the SSA. The department adds that there has not been any accusations of mishandling of funds.
Meanwhile, in an Oct. 31 letter to planning commissioner Maurice Cox, the chamber claims the city has not yet provided it with a reason for terminating its service provider contract and said that the decision appears to be political, an allegation that the department has denied.
“We would like to state at this time that the chamber has met all requirements of the agreement and met the expectations of our local commissioners. In absence of giving us a reason to terminate this agreement, we only surmise that this is being done for political reasons.
“The current city administration has been publicly harsh on the alderman of the 45th Ward, where the SSA is located,” chamber board chairman Dennis Wolkowicz wrote.
Alderman James Gardiner (45th) echoed the chamber’s concerns, claiming that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration “continues to actively work against my office when deciding what is in the best interests of our community.”
Gardiner charged that the SSA decision demonstrates there are “rules being enforced in certain wards while other wards, where the aldermen are more likely to vote with the administration, have less scrutiny and oversight. It is another form of political gamesmanship and needs to be called out.”
Gardiner has voted against the mayor’s budgets and has been at odds with her administration’s decision that he was not eligible for a firefighter’s promotion to lieutenant. He is on leave from the Chicago Fire Department while serving as alderman.
The SSA funds a variety of beautification, promotional and maintenance items, including snow removal in the business district, and the chamber was under contract to oversee those programs on behalf of the Six Corners Commission, which sets the annual tax levy and chooses a service provider, pending approval by the city.
The SSA was founded in 2004, and through 2020 the Six Corners Association was the service provider.
Two years ago the chamber replaced the association at the urging of Gardiner, who in 2019 defeated then-alderman John Arena, who in 2019 briefly served as a deputy commissioner in the planning department before resigning in early 2020.
When he was alderman, Arena was supportive of the association and said that the creation of the chamber was unnecessary. Arena now serves on the association’s board as its secretary.
One of the founders of the association in the early 2000s was Joe Angelastri, owner of City News Cafe at 4018 N. Cicero Ave. The association and Angelastri cut ties about five years ago when he helped form the chamber.
While not publicly named by the department, Angelastri is the chamber member who the department in 2021 prohibited from being involved in managing the SSA. The restriction was placed in the 2021 SSA agreement with the chamber, but the city reportedly left the restriction out of the 2022 contract, and in May of this year Angelastri was named to the chamber board as a director, according to chamber meeting minutes.
Angelastri said that he agreed to step down as chamber president in 2021 to “answer critics” that it was “a chamber of one,” adding that several business and community stakeholders have stepped up to work with the chamber.
“The chamber has been approved unanimously as the sole service provider three years in a row for 2021, 2022 and 2023. Last year our audit was approved without any exceptions, and we expect the same for this year. When the chamber began providing services in 2021 they expanded the snow plowing service to the entire SSA boundaries. The chamber now provides litter pick up seven days a week and replaces banners twice a year. …
“(And) by-laws of SSA28 were changed to the recommended template regarding commissioners either ‘have a business or residence within SSA boundaries,’” Wolkowicz wrote to Cox.
However, according to the department, the chamber violated its agreement with the city by allowing Angelastri to help manage the service area, even if the restriction was not in writing for 2022.
“DPD is not aware of the individual serving (as a board member) with the chamber in 2022. The 2021 contract included language that specifically prohibited this involvement due to management issues. The language was not included in 2022 given the chamber’s recognition of the previous year’s terms,” the department said.
The department plans to work with Gardiner and the commission to find an interim service provider for the winter until a contract can be awarded for 2023. One of the SSA’s main services has been the clearing of snow from sidewalks, but it is not known if an agreement with a snow removal company will be in place for this winter.
The chamber has indicated that, after consulting with an attorney, it is eligible to apply for the 2023 contract, but it is not clear if the city would consider a submission from the chamber.
The department sent the chamber a termination letter for the 2022 contract on Oct. 4, requiring it to return the unspent tax funds to the city by Oct. 14. The transfer of funds was completed, the chamber said.
Also, over the summer Cox sent the chamber a letter expressing concern about the “alleged termination” of a chamber employee. The chamber responded that the worker had taken a job elsewhere.
The Six Corners SSA covers the business area located within an approximate two-block radius from the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue, Cicero Avenue and Irving Park Road.
There are about 60 service areas in the city, including Sauganash, Belmont-Central and Northcenter. They are governed by commissions of local stakeholders, including property owners.