CHA will wait on deciding LeClaire's fate

In the wake of a controversial secret vote on the future of the LeClaire Courts development, the Chicago Housing Authority has decided to air the matter in public at its next board meeting. 

The decision comes after a Daily News report last week that raised questions about whether the agency had violated the state's Open Meetings Act by voting in private.

State law generally requires that government business be conducted in full public view.

Scott Ammarell, general counsel for CHA, says the agency does not believe it violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act, but will bring the matter to the public at the May 19 meeting to clear up any confusion.

"So there is no ambiguity surrounding the Board’s actions, the CHA has determined that it will take no further action regarding the LeClaire Courts properties until such action is fully and completely discussed and voted on during the public portion of the next regularly scheduled Board Meeting," said Ammarell, in a statement.

A board member told the Daily News that CHA commissioners had voted to close the development during an executive session -- a portion of the meeting from which the public is excluded.

After the meeting, LeClaire Courts Local Advisory Council President Natalie Saffold received a letter from the CHA confirming that LeClaire would close. The letter says commissioners made "an important initial decision" regarding LeClaire and that "the Board determined that relocation should occur as soon as possible."

But Ammarell says the board did not vote to close the complex. Instead, he says, the board voted against allowing residents from one side of the development, which was already set to close, to the other half.

The Open Meetings Act prohibits the CHA board from taking "any final action" in executive session.

It also bars discussions of most public business in such sessions, with the exception of a handful of topics like personnel issues, litigation and real estate transactions.

Ammarell says the board's vote was consistent with the law because it did not constitute "final action."

He added that the discussion about LeClaire was legal because it pertained to  permits the board to could legally discuss this matter in executive session because it pertained to personnel, real estate and litigation.

When asked about how these exceptions were applicable to the matter of closing LeClaire or moving residents, Ammarell declined to answer further questions.

"I don't think it's fruitful for us to get into a debate over specific issues on who believes what over the Open Meetings Act," says Ammarell.

Saffold says she's pleased to hear that the Board is delaying action. She hopes to bring a group of residents to the meeting to express their opinion about the Board's decisions.

Saffold says she hopes it will make a difference.

"Maybe then we can be heard and not just sit back and just wait on CHA to do what they want to do," says Saffold. "They make promises and then it seems like they won't keep them."

Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12, or megan [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.