Ex-city manager denies disparaging comments
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org October 10, 2012 9:32PM
Former Joliet City Manager John Mezera exits the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, October 4, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 12, 2012 11:54AM
CHICAGO — If any Joliet official had referred to Evergreen Terrace residents as “whores” or “rats,” it wasn’t John Mezera, according to the former city manager’s testimony on Wednesday.
Mezera has been on the witness stand for two days and is expected to be the only witness Thursday as a trial continues on the city’s attempt to condemn and redevelop a portion of the low-income housing complex.
He faced cross-examination for the first time Wednesday. But it was the city’s attorney who questioned Mezera about the alleged “whores” and “rats” comments.
An attorney for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in opening statements last week said the case would show that either Mezera or the late Mayor Arthur Schultz had referred to Evergreen Terrace residents as “whores.”
It wasn’t him, Mezera testified. And, he said, he had not heard the comment from Schultz or any other city official.
Mezera also said he never called the residents “rats” or “prostitutes.” And he could not recall ever hearing those words used by other city officials.
Mezera may face more questioning on the topic under cross-examination Thursday.
HUD has joined the Evergreen Terrace owners and a group of four tenants in contending that the city’s plan for the privately owned but federally subsidized complex is motivated by racial discrimination.
Questioned by James Figliulo, the attorney for Joliet, Mezera did acknowledge using the word “gangbanger” in reference to people seen at Evergreen Terrace. But he said he was repeating what he was told by a security guard at the apartment complex.
Mezera said on an occasion in 1994 he drove by Evergreen Terrace and saw a group of people standing around a doorway while a security car for the complex was parked some distance away. He asked the security guard about the people who had gathered by the doorway, and “he said it was gangbangers who come on the site every day and sell drugs.”
Mezera said he repeated the term when complaining later to an executive with the Burnham Management group that runs Evergreen Terrace.
During the first hours of cross-examination, attorney Dean Polales presented a stream of city records while making a case that conditions at Evergreen Terrace were not as bad as the city has portrayed them in pursuing condemnation.
Polales presented records showing that Joliet, for years before and even after filing the condemnation lawsuit in 2005, had certified a section of the complex known as Evergreen Terrace Two as meeting HUD standards. City officials, however, have said that another part of the complex called Evergreen Terrace One was where most of the problems occurred.
Polales also presented records showing that Evergreen Terrace buildings passed city inspections. His questioning of Mezera became testy at times as the city manager repeatedly tried to interject that many times the passing grades were issued months after the initial inspections because repairs had to be completed first.