At its Aug. 5 meeting, the City’s Board of Ethics found that comments made by Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey at a City meeting on April 1, 2019, “did not constitute a prohibited political activity or a campaign for an elected office,” as had been alleged by complainant Dan Coyne.

Mr. Coyne had objected to comments made by Ald. Rainey’s at a meeting of the Ridgeville Park District Board on March 14, 2019.  Just over two weeks later, on April 1, in both a Rules Committee and a City Council meeting, Ald. Rainey said she disagreed with Mr. Coyne’s characterization of those remarks and said she took issue with the Park District Commissioners’ performance. She criticized Mr. Coyne, who was campaigning for a position on the Ridgeville Park District Board. Election Day was the following day, April 2, and early voting had already ended.

Mr. Coyne’s complaint alleged that Ald. Rainey had violated the City Code by “by participating in prohibited political activities” when she made the comments against him on April 1.

The Board of Ethics did not agree.

This Board found the relevant provisions of the City Code to be § 1-10-5(B)(1),  which states: “No officer or employee shall intentionally perform any prohibited political activity during any ‘compensated time,’ as defined herein. No officer or employee shall intentionally use any property or resources of the City in connection with any prohibited political activity. No employee shall use the prestige of his/her position on behalf of any political party or for any political purpose.”

The definition of “prohibited political activity” is “campaigning for any elective office or for or against any referendum question.”

Further, “campaigning for an elective office” is defined as “any activity in furtherance of an effort to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any individual to any federal, state, or local public office or office in a political organization, or the selection, nomination, or election of presidential or vice presidential electors, but does not include activities: 1) relating to the support or opposition of any executive, legislative, or administrative action, 2) relating to collective 3 bargaining, or 3) that are otherwise in furtherance of the person’s official duties.”

The Board quoted one of Ald. Rainey’s April 1 comments: “Maybe he [Mr. Coyne] got a vote or two, I don’t know, but good luck to the good people that are running. Bad luck to him.”

Carrie Anne Von Hoff Acting Chair of the Board of Ethics signed the findings on behalf of the Board: “The BOE finds that Ald. Rainey’s comments at the April 1, 2019, Rules Committee meeting and the April 1, 2019, City Council meeting may have been intemperate and insensitive; however, her comments did not constitute a prohibited political activity or a campaign for an elected office.”

The Board further found that Ald. Rainey’s comments were in line with her duties as an alderman, as prescribed in City Council Rule 10.6. Because “Mr.  Coyne’s prepared statement attacked Ald. Rainey’s character and integrity,” the Board found, “Ald. Rainey was allowed to respond to this attack. …  Thus, her statements were made in furtherance of her official duties as Alderman.”

The Board received the complaints earlier this year, but because of the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, did not meet between March and July.

In other action, the Board set a date of Sept. 2 to hear the complaint of Misty Witenberg and City Clerk Devon Reid against Mayor Stephen Hagerty and former Corporation Counsel Michelle Masoncup.

Ahead of the hearing itself, Clerk Reid had several questions and motions. Since Ms. Masoncup is no longer employed by the City, the Board found it had no jurisdiction over her. Mr. Reid disputed that, saying Ms. Masconcup was an employee of the City when the action complained about occurred. He cited as precedent the Board’s granting jurisdiction to hear a complaint about a former alderman who had used her City email for a personal purpose.

He asked for a motion to reconsider that finding but the motion failed.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...