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Alderman Moves To Give City Council Authority Over Any Decisions To Remove Public Monuments

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Amid an ongoing review of dozens of public monuments in Chicago, as part of a "racial healing and historical reckoning project," downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) is moving to give the City Council the final say on whether any monuments are removed.

Reilly introduced an ordinance at Wednesday's City Council meeting that would require the "decommissioning or other removal of a statue, monument, plaque, or similar carved or cast artwork shall be subject to approval by the City Council."

The new requirement would not apply to the temporary removal of public artwork for special events or for maintenance or restoration.

"This ordinance simply codifies what most of my colleagues would expect: any decisions by the City of Chicago to remove statues or monuments from public spaces should be done so in consultation with, and approval by, the legislative branch of our city government: the City Council," Reilly said in a statement.

The proposal comes one month after a city advisory panel appointed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot identified more than 40 Chicago statues and monuments that could be potentially problematic.

The Chicago Monuments Project has launched a series of webinars and one-hour discussion panels with the advisory committee to seek public input on the 41 monuments that were identified as potentially problematic.

The monuments include the three statues of Christopher Columbus; monuments to former Presidents Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and William McKinley; several statues of Native Americans; a monument to fascist Italian politician Italo Balbo; and a monument of the Haymarket Riot.

Reilly said Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Mark Kelly currently has the power to decide which monuments can be taken down.

"I support the current Commissioner and his department's good work, but do not think any appointed official should have such broad authority on a matter that could have a profound impact on communities across Chicago," Reilly said in a statement. "I applaud the Mayor for appointing the City of Chicago's 'Monument Project Advisory Committee' and look forward to receiving their recommendations in the coming months."

Reilly also noted the Better Government Association has raised concerns about the transparency of the Chicago Monument Project's work to identify potentially problematic monuments.

The BGA has reported the committee formed by Lightfoot isn't releasing details regarding how it came to its decisions so far, and met in private during its first six months, without public input. City officials have said the committee is not a public body, and therefore not subject to the state's Open Meetings Act.

"This ordinance should allay those concerns. Requiring City Council approval for the removal of statues or monuments in Chicago will require regular Council proceedings (i.e. committee hearings, public comment, etc.) and will thus address BGA's concerns by providing ample opportunity for public comment and transparency on this matter," Reilly said.

In response to Reilly's proposal, Lightfoot's office said the Chicago Monuments Project already has begun its public engagement process allowing Chicago residents to provide input on public monuments. The mayor's office also noted the advisory panel includes a mix of community leaders, artists, architects, scholars, and city officials – including two aldermen.

"Most important – this is not simply a binary choice between keeping or removing any particular statue on whoever's authority. The Chicago Monuments Project is an opportunity to brainstorm ways to add context, to add voices and to create new work together. The advisory committee will listen to these suggestions and make recommendations to the City Departments and agencies that administer the public art collections," Lightfoot spokeswoman Jordan Troy said in a statement.

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