Amy Connolly, the development director for the City of Racine, will receive $360,000 from her former employer, the Village of Tinley Park, as part of a settlement from a housing discrimination lawsuit filed by the Justice Department.
The Village of Tinley Park approved the settlement agreement Tuesday at a board meeting.
The Justice Department asserted that the Village violated the Fair Housing Act because “it refused to approve” the development after the community voiced “race-based” opposition to the project. The settlement names Connolly as an “aggrieved party.” It alleged that the Village retaliated against her because of her support for the project, which conformed to the Village’s zoning laws.
Read: The Village of Tinley Park Agreement.
The settlement agreement dismisses the Justice Department’s case against Tinley Park, which denies any liability or wrongdoing.
In a prepared statement village manager Dave Niemeyer stressed that the settlement was in the best interest of the Village.
“This was a business decision to reduce the risk and costs of litigation, which could easily go over a million dollars from this point forward, with an uncertain outcome for both cases,” he wrote.
The Village Board also agreed to pay Connolly $360,000 and pay a $50,000 civil penalty to United States Treasury. Connolly is relieved that the case is over.
“I can finally breathe large sighs of relief and tell all of you about what my family and I have endured over the last 2 1/2 years at the hands of elected officials and a cabal of NIMBY racists in Tinley Park, IL,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
Citizens levy harsh criticism over low-income housing project
The rift over the development started in 2015 between the Village Board and Connolly after a number of residents opposed a multi-family low-income housing project known as The Reserve, a project presented by Ohio-based developer Buckeye Community Hope Foundation.
“Within two weeks, the Village Hall was packed with hundreds of angry residents demanding to know WHO was responsible for putting ‘THOSE’ people in ‘THEIR’ town? It was ugly,” Connolly said. “And within days, the blame for this landed on me.”
Put on paid leave, Connolly was accused of changing the zoning code, colluding with the developer and scheming against the Village to allow for the development, she said.
“Tinley Park officials called for a criminal investigation and I was investigated by the Cook County Sheriff’s Department,” she said. But no criminal charges were filed against Connolly.
A number of Citizens of Tinley Park started a Facebook page to complain about her and the project. They posted photos of her home. Death threats were made against her. A person posted 30 videos about Connolly “tampering” with the zoning code.
“It was a modern day tar and feathering. I can’t even describe the shame I felt, even though I had done nothing wrong,” she said.
Connolly and Tinley Park part ways
The Village put Connolly on paid leave and left the Village in 2016 to become the City Development Director for Racine. The Village filed a lawsuit against Connolly alleging that she “breached her fiduciary duties to the Village.” It tried to sue her for $75,000 plus punitive damages to “punish Connolly for her wrongful conduct and deter others from such conduct…”
But Connolly responded by filing a complaint of her own with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which filed its own lawsuit against the Village and that’s what was settled on Tuesday.
Connolly’s attorney, Patrick Walsh said he didn’t know what was really going to change as a result of the settlement.
“I think Amy was vindicated, but we knew that would occur since day one,” he said. “But what this settlement does is it puts this to rest. And if there are any holdouts in Racine, they should know they are lucky to have someone like Amy that is a brilliant planner that cares deeply about the community she serves.”