Email ‘discrimination’ claims clouds battle over Evergreen Terrace
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org June 30, 2012 5:38PM
Updated: August 2, 2012 10:27AM
JOLIET — The city’s own consultant could be used against it in the pending Evergreen Terrace trial because of an email describing Joliet’s plan to condemn the apartment complex as “blatant discrimination.”
The email exchange was between an executive and manager of a consulting firm that was working with Joliet to prepare a report on the city’s housing policies amid the legal storm brewing over Evergreen Terrace. The federal government, including the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, has opposed Joliet’s efforts to condemn the complex, and they are locked in a federal lawsuit over the matter.
“ET (Evergreen Terrace) was a blatant case of discrimination on the part of the city,” Eric Fulmer, former president of Mullin & Lonergan Associates, wrote in an email to the project manager working with the city on the housing report.
The city wants to condemn Evergreen Terrace, a low-income apartent complex on Broadway and take over the property. But last August, the U.S. Department of Justice questioned the city’s motives in trying to take over a housing complex where most of the residents are black.
The city contends it can better manage Evergreen Terrace.
In the Dec. 2, 2010, email, now part of the pretrial court record, Fulmer also indicated he felt as if he did not get appropriate respect in a visit he made to Joliet. There also seemed to be some confusion at Mullin & Lonergan over the city’s proposal for Evergreen Terrace before the firm issued a first draft critical of the plan.
But when project manager Marjorie Williams was questioned about the email on June 18 in a pretrial deposition, she said she agreed with Fulmer’s characterization of “blatant discrimination.”
Williams on Friday would not discuss her opinion with The Herald-News but referred to the first draft of the report, which was later changed to reflect the city’s case for taking over Evergreen Terrace.
Evergreen Terrace consists of eight buildings with 356 units. City officials have long argued that Evergreen Terrace is badly managed, attracts crime, and contributes to lower property values in the neighborhoods around it. They have also said the development is an outdated concept.
Joliet City Attorney Jeff Plyman on Friday said he did not think the consultants’ personal opinions would hurt Joliet’s case, which is scheduled for trial later this year.
“It’s unfortunate if anyone has formed that opinion,” Plyman said. “It’s uninformed and false.”
Plyman said Pittsburgh-based Mullin & Lonergan initially drafted a report that said the demolition of Evergreen Terrace would be harmful to blacks who live there. He said the city wanted the report changed because the city does not plan to demolish Evergreen Terrace. He said the city would maintain the housing complex until it could create a redevelopment plan with approval from HUD.
“The future of Evergreen Terrace is something that will be determined by the city, by the tenants and by HUD,” he said.
In her deposition, Williams also said, “I don’t recall spending a lot of time on Evergreen Terrace. I think it was more a matter of OK, we will rewrite this section and provide it to you. Let’s move on to the next point.”
The final report, which is called the “Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice,” now describes Evergreen Terrace as a “badly designed, overcrowded, physically distressed, and racially and economically segregated living environment.”
The five-page analysis of Evergreen Terrace is a small part of the 143-page report. The first draft devoted even less space — three pages — to Evergreen Terrace.
The initial draft provides a chronology of events that suggested Evergreen Terrace passed building inspections without notable problems until the city began filing court actions that led to its effort to condemn and take over the property. The first draft also includes a highlighted box offering the opinion that, “The city’s proposed acquisition and demolition of Evergreen Terrace would disproportionately impact black female-headed households with children.”
Plyman said city officials were concerned that the report represented the legal case being made by Evergreen Terrace ownership in court.
“We asked Mullin & Lonergan not to include in our report statements made by ownership about Evergreen Terrace. That was not appropriate,” Plyman said. “We have no idea why they thought it was appropriate to include arguments made in a lawsuit against the city.”
The email exchange between Fulmer and Williams indicates some displeasure with the city of Joliet.
At one point Fulmer complains that the city attorney and city manager did not introduce themselves to him during a visit to City Hall and described that as “a reflection of their cavalier attitude about fair housing in general and the AI (Analysis of Impediments) in particular.”
Fulmer also wrote that he had “very little sympathy for the city of Joliet” before calling Evergreen Terrace “a blatant case of discrimination.”
The email exchange also indicates that Mullin & Lonergan was not fully aware of the city’s stated plan for Evergreen Terrace when writing the first draft. Williams wrote that after being told that Joliet planned to own and manage Evergreen Terrace she had agreed to “edit observations and recommendations to reflect that.”
Fulmer replied, “If city officials can prove to our satisfaction that we made a misstatement of fact in the AI (Analysis of Impediments), then we should correct these errors.”
An attorney for Evergreen Terrace did not return a call for comments on Friday.