Harvey Mayor Christopher Clark claimed a public health emergency was an excuse for barring citizens from City Hall on Monday and denying them the opportunity to speak in person during a public meeting.
The councilors met in the council chambers on Monday, but Clark barred public participation. This frustrated several people who wanted to ask how they could recover vehicles that Harvey police impounded two weeks ago.
It’s unclear what public health emergency gave Clark the notion that he had the power to stop people from asking questions publicly. The agenda said the reason was COVID-19, but during the meeting Clark said it was monkeypox.
Monkeypox is primarily spread through sexual relations or other prolonged skin-to-skin contact. I could not find any other reports of the government restricting access to a public gathering because of monkeypox.
“The government last week declared a monkeypox state of emergency for those who don’t heed the news,” Clark said. “We have to be careful how we proceed.”
The federal government on Thursday declared a public health emergency to help the nation’s response to the monkeypox outbreak that has infected more than 6,600 Americans, The Associated Press reported.
I watched the conference call on Monday. It was sometimes difficult to understand what Clark and others were saying because the audio on TV was garbled. At the beginning of the meeting, I saw someone approach the mayor and apparently tell him that viewers were having trouble following the procedure.
“Hopefully our video/audio person can fix that,” Clark replied.
Perhaps Clark didn’t want people to hear what was being said because he didn’t want to pay attention to a situation involving a Harvey deal. This is what owners of several expensive custom-made products believe.
A vehicle owner called and spoke during the meeting. I didn’t catch his name, but I could make out parts of what he was saying. I also spoke to Ald on the phone. Marshun Tolbert, former Ald. Keith Price and another man who said he owned a vehicle he said Harvey police seized on July 25 from Shop Customs, a specialty motor vehicle center located on Lathrop Ave. 16916 was operated.
They all said owners of about two dozen vehicles had been trying for two weeks to get their vehicles back, but to no avail. Some owners planned to spend $150,000 or more to have their classic cars customized or rebuilt.
Images apparently linked to the deal and shared on social media showed intricate mechanical upgrades, such as lowriders with hydraulics that make cars appear to defy gravity.
One vehicle owner said on social media that Harvey police had seized up to $4 million worth of the company’s vehicles, tools, machinery and equipment. Vehicle owners said the city had no legal right to take their property. Vehicle owners said they were charged storage fees for each day the city owned the vehicles.
Tolbert questioned Clark Monday about the situation.
“This matter is currently under investigation and we are not making any comments on this particular issue,” Clark replied.
Clark sounded like everything was fine. Nobody should have trouble getting their vehicle out of the city’s impounded lot, he said.
“If they haven’t already, they can go to the police department and give them a copy of their driver’s license as well as their phone number and if and when the investigation is complete…” Clark said as the garbled audio went in and out.
Tolbert tried to pressure Clark about the issue, but Clark scolded him and seemed to remind him of a parliamentary protocol apparently designed to prevent elected councilors from questioning the mayor during public meetings.
“I can’t comment anymore,” Clark said. “If you want an answer, write to our legal counsel. We would like you to submit this in writing to our lawyer so that she can give you the right answer in writing.”
Clark reminded council members that in March he had told them to submit written questions.
“If you have a problem with administration, you have to get those issues in writing before you bring them to the council,” Clark said.
People I spoke to described the July 25 raid on the company. They said the entire contingent of city police officers had been there all day. They said three people who worked there were arrested for trespassing. Lawyers advised the business owner not to speak to me or other reporters, they said.
Cook County property records showed that the property on which the company was located was exempt from paying property taxes for many years. Property records showed title to the lot transferred from Cook County to the City of Harvey in 2016.
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It’s unclear how long Shop Customs operated on the site. A social media page associated with the company had posts from 2016. I couldn’t immediately tell if the company was paying rent to the county or the city.
Whatever the dispute between the city and the company, neither side is talking about it, and I couldn’t immediately find any court transcript that could shed any light on the situation.
Large concrete barriers blocked access to the building on Lathrop Avenue on Tuesday. People who worked at various businesses near the business park said they watched many police officers at the scene for several hours on July 25, when owners said the city had impounded their vehicles.
Vehicle owners insist they did nothing wrong and say they are innocent victims caught in the crossfire. They just want the city to give back their property.
At least they deserve answers. Using concerns about a public health emergency seems like a flimsy excuse to deny them the opportunity to question the mayor during a public meeting.
Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.