A Park Ridge resident's complaint that an alderman participating in an anti-airplane noise group was a conflict of interest has been harshly dismissed by a retired judge hired to investigate the matter.
Gene Spanos, founder of the Park Ridge-based anti-noise group Citizens Against Plane Pollution, or, CAPP, alleged in January that 6th Ward Ald. Marc Mazzuca and Jim Argionis, chairman of the city's O'Hare Airport Commission, may have been violating Park Ridge's ethics ordinance by working with Fair Allocation in Runways, or, FAiR. Spanos also had said there was a potential conflict of interest.
A Feb. 26 report from retired Judge James P. Etchingham emphatically rejected that premise, stating that neither Mazzuca nor Argionis violated the city's ethics ordinance. The judge also said neither had conflicts of interest by working with Chicago-based FAiR. The report concurred with City Attorney Everette "Buzz" Hill's Jan. 24 legal memo, which found no conflicts of interest or ethics ordinance violations.
Etchingham also rejected Spanos' accusation that Mazzuca, Argionis and FAiR conspired to force CAPP to cancel its planned Feb. 24 meeting in Park Ridge by holding a meeting in town on Jan. 25, saying "nothing could be further from the truth."
He noted Mazzuca's Jan. 13 email to Spanos, in which the alderman said he saw no reason for CAPP to cancel its meeting and said he would attend CAPP's meeting.
"Quite frankly, this is a matter that should never have been subject to any investigation," Etchingham wrote. "Spanos, as well-intentioned as he may have been, should be criticized for even suggesting any type of conspiracy, ethics violation or conflict of interest of any soundly motivated individual whose goal is the same as his."
"Public officials, elected or otherwise, should be encouraged, not discouraged, from attending any meeting or gathering that promotes the health, safety and welfare of the community they serve," Etchingham further wrote.
Etchingham said that both CAPP and FAiR were created to combat airplane noise related to O'Hare Airport's expansion plan.
City Manager Shawn Hamilton said legal costs for the investigation are $1,581.25 – a tab that Park Ridge resident Pat Livensparger said should be assessed to Spanos.
"Somebody should pay for it and it shouldn't be me," she said.
This episode will almost certainly result in changes to the city's ethics ordinance regarding the filing of complaints, officials have said.
Hamilton said he will present draft amendments to the ordinance to the city council's committee of the whole on March 10.
"I'm just happy we can get back to real business," Mazzuca said after the report was discussed at a meeting Monday night.
Spanos on Tuesday said he "begs to differ vigorously" with Etchingham's conclusions and rejects his report because Mayor David Schmidt was not interviewed.
Neither Schmidt – who is out of town – nor Argionis could be reached for comment.
Spanos said FAiR is "window dressing" for Chicago's airport agenda.
"This is all smoke and mirrors," Spanos said. "This is asking Baghdad to stand down."