Chicago is bidding for the 2016 Olympic Games. Part of that process is coming to an agreement on post-Games benefits for the communities most affected, outlined in the memorandum of understanding.
I had never really heard of a memorandum of understanding, and certainly didn’t know where it fell within the echelons of codes, ordinances, resolutions, and referendums that the city churns out. The process of figuring it out has been an intense civics education.
It’s a tricky situation where people want “in writing” what they’ll get out of the Olympics, but are not entirely aware of what can be made official. I’m still trying to figure it out myself.
Some things to keep in mind:
• The city can’t just up and draft an ordinance that singles out one entity for special treatment/rules, in this situation Chicago 2016, the nonprofit managing the bid.
• Memorandums aren’t always legally binding contracts. Basically, it’s a contract when it’s written as a contract, otherwise it’s more like a promise.
• The memorandum is an agreement only for work contracted by Chicago 2016. All the incidental stuff, like that $15.5 billion for new transportation downtown, is all city, state and federal money, which all has its own requirements for things like minority contractor participation.
• Though Chicago 2016 is largely staffed by familiar faces — the funders look awfully familiar too — there are no assurances how long this body will exist after the Olympics. Even if groups got a legally binding contract, who would they sue if none of the promised benefits materialized? Perhaps more importantly, if this is in essence just a promise, who pays the political bill if the jobs and affordable housing don’t come through?
I wrote a story on some of these concerns last week for the Hyde Park Herald under a rather unfortunate headline.
Lawyers: Olympic memorandum flimsy
After the City Council put its blessing on a memorandum of understanding between Chicago 2016 and community groups, several organizations now wonder what recourse they have if the promised benefits do not materialize.
At the heart of the concerns is whether the memorandum is a legally recognized contract or a formal agreement signaling the city and Chicago 2016 are becoming more amenable to creating a community benefits agreement that would be enforceable.
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