Lightfoot granted emergency contracting authority at wild City Council meeting

Wednesday’s meeting also featured a protracted floor fight over an attempt by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) to force an immediate vote on his long-stalled plan to empower the City Council to hire its own legislative counsel.

SHARE Lightfoot granted emergency contracting authority at wild City Council meeting
Chicago City Hall

Chicago City Hall.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot got the go-ahead Wednesday to sign emergency contracts valued at up to $1 million without City Council approval, but only until the end of the year.

Last month, Lightfoot’s most outspoken Council critics used a parliamentary maneuver to delay the vote.

That prompted the mayor to sign an executive order giving herself expanded emergency contracting authority to deal with supply chain disruptions and inflationary price increases that threaten to leave the city without the water purification chemicals and other products needed to protect public safety.

Budget Committee Chairman Pat Dowell (3rd) used her own parliamentary maneuver at Wednesday meeting to resurrect the emergency powers ordinance, pushing it through the Council on a 39-to-6 vote.

It happened during a wild and woolly meeting that featured a protracted floor fight over an attempt by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) to force an immediate vote on his long-stalled plan to empower the Council to hire its own legislative counsel. 

Last summer, 22 of Chicago’s 50 Council members signed a letter to the mayor demanding that she “honor and consistently follow” the Council’s rules of procedure, citing numerous occasions when Lightfoot made parliamentary rulings contradicting those rules.

Implied, but not stated, was that if Lightfoot continued to disregard those rules while presiding at Council meetings, members would insist on having their own counsel and their own parliamentarian, or challenge Lightfoot’s rulings in court.

Beale’s latest effort to bring the matter to a head also failed — ironically, after another disputed ruling.

He used a parliamentary maneuver to force an immediate vote on the legislative counsel, only to have Lightfoot rule from the chair that it required support from two-thirds of the Council — 34 members, not just a simple majority of 26.

The motion failed, 29 to 19.

Prior to the vote, Lightfoot reminded alderpersons with “amnesia” that she campaigned on a promise to give the Council its own attorney, but “the body hasn’t acted.”

She urged members to hold a substantive hearing on the issue and decide between Beale’s version and the one introduced Wednesday by downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), the Council’s president pro tem.

Reilly wants the Legislative Reference Bureau to be renamed the Office of Legislative Counsel and empower the office to “provide unbiased advice to City Council members on parliamentary procedures, legislative interpretation and other substantive and procedural matters” during Council meetings and to Council committees “upon request.”

“It is a complicated thing. What are we gonna do — have dueling parliamentarians on the floor of this body? Maybe. Maybe. But you’ve got to figure it out. Let’s not do things on the fly,” Lightfoot said.

“Need I remind you of your legislative inspector general and the amount of money that was spent there because it was done on the fly and not thoughtful. Hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent and owed without having any parameters around what that individual’s work was. … Take the time. Refer this to committee. Have the debate and discussion. Thirty days. Whatever it is. But be thoughtful about it. That’s what residents of this city expect this body to do.”

Beale said he is “not going for the delay tactic anymore” — not after seeing his ordinance buried for months.

“We all know that the clock is ticking and there’s a concerted effort to just run the clock out. Elections are coming,” he said.

“This is about making sure that we empower us, y’all. This ain’t about nothing else. This ain’t about a sleight toward nobody. This ain’t trying to hurt nobody. This is about empowering the City Council.”

After Lightfoot yielded the gavel to Reilly, Beale rose to accuse the mayor of making up the rules to suit her own purpose — again.

“You do not need 34 votes to discharge a committee. It is a simple majority of 26. Based on the rules that we are governed by, that last item passed 29 to 19 and, therefore, should have passed,” Beale said.

Several measures approved

Before things got hairy, the Council approved a watered-down crackdown on amplified noise from pedicabs, moved to dry up the market for stolen cell phones and approved a $2-an-hour pay raise for contract employees at O’Hare and Midway airports.

The Council also approved zoning changes that will pave the way for construction of a new St. Anthony’s Hospital and signed off on a $14 million settlement to two men who, as teenagers, confessed to a murder they did not commit after being interrogated for hours by detectives trained by disgraced Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.

Determined to reduce childhood obesity, Lightfoot also pushed through her plan to stop Chicago restaurants from automatically serving kids meals with sugary, high-calorie drinks. No longer would Chicago restaurants serve or market soda pop or other sugary drinks as the “default beverage” with kids meals.

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