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Aldermen warn Lightfoot to follow rules of procedure during City Council meetings

In a letter, 22 aldermen are demanding that the mayor “honor and consistently follow” Robert’s Rules of Order, citing “numerous occasions” when she made parliamentary rulings that contradicted those rules.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presiding at Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting. In her hands, she’s holding a booklet of the Council’s “Rules of Order and Procedure” — rules she too often flouts, according to 22 aldermen who sent her a letter of complaint on Thursday, a day after a Council meeting adjourned abruptly, leaving some major business unfinished.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot presiding at Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting. In her hands, she’s holding a booklet of the Council’s “Rules of Order and Procedure” — rules she too often flouts, according to 22 aldermen who sent her a letter of complaint on Thursday, a day after a Council meeting adjourned abruptly, leaving some major business unfinished.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

In a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, 22 of Chicago’s 50 aldermen are demanding that she “honor and consistently follow” the City Council’s rules of procedure, citing numerous occasions when Lightfoot made parliamentary rulings that contradicted those rules.

The rare admonishment from a large group of aldermen that includes Lightfoot’s former floor leader, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), comes a day after a Council meeting dissolved into chaos not seen since the 1980s power struggle known as Council Wars.

“We have witnessed numerous occasions in recent meetings when the various rulings made by you as Presiding Officer have been inconsistent and/or in direct contradiction with the Rules of Procedure,” the letter states.

“The Rules … were adopted by the body to ensure a fair and transparent process for legislative movement. Any deviation from them is not only unacceptable and illegal, but also a manipulation of our democratic process. ... We, the undersigned members of the Chicago City Council, herby call on you — in our current capacity as Presiding Officer — to honor and consistently follow the 2019-2023 Rules of Order and Procedures of the City Council.”

Those rules follow the leading guide to parliamentary procedure, Robert’s Rules of Order. And implied, but not stated, in the letter was that if Lightfoot continues to disregard those rules while presiding at Council meetings, some aldermen may insist on having their own counsel and their own parliamentarian, or challenge Lightfoot’s rulings in court.

Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th), who replaced Villegas as the mayor’s floor leader, said the pushback is nothing new.

“There’s been a move for a long time for us to have our own counsel. That’s been something we’ve been talking about for the last year,” Harris said Thursday.

“It’s not a hard lift for the city that when we have issues, we could just get private counsel so the aldermen don’t feel there is a conflict.”

Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) holds up a copy of the “Rules of Order and Procedure” of the City Council during a Council meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, June 23, 2021.
Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) holds up a copy of the “Rules of Order and Procedure” of the Chicago City Council during Wednesday’s Council meeting at City Hall.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Along with Villegas, other aldermen signing the letter were: Daniel LaSpata (1st), Sophia King (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Anthony Beale (9th), Edward Burke (14th), Ray Lopez (15th), Stephanie Coleman (16th), David Moore (17th), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Michael Rodriguez (22nd), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Roberto Maldonado (26th), Rossana Rodriguez (33rd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Andre Vasquez (40th), Anthony Napolitano (41st), Jim Gardiner (45th), Matt Martin (47th) and Maria Hadden (49th).

Sawyer and Villegas are among the mayor’s hand-picked committee chairs. Several co-signers — including Hairston, Beale, Burke, Lopez, Coleman, Moore, Taylor, Rodriguez, Napolitano, Gardiner and Hadden — have been at odds with Lightfoot on various issues.

Wednesday’s meeting was cut short — delaying a showdown on renaming Lake Shore Drive for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable — after a pair of aldermen used a parliamentary maneuver to temporarily delay Lightfoot’s appointment of Celia Meza as corporation counsel.

Lopez and Taylor made the move to protest the Law Department’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by social worker Anjanette Young after Young’s attorney refused to accept what he viewed as a “low-ball” offer to settle Young’s case for $1 million.

Young was the subject of a humiliating raid on her home by police who had the wrong address. Young was forced to stand naked while an all-male team of CPD officers searched her home as she pleaded with them to explain to her why they were there and insisted they were in the wrong place.

Wednesday’s move to temporarily scuttle the Meza appointment prompted Lightfoot to recess, leave the rostrum and get into a finger-pointing shouting match with Taylor as cameras rolled, stunning and disappointing even some of the mayor’s closest allies.

As mayoral allies tried to adjourn the meeting, Lightfoot made several controversial parliamentary rulings from the chair as Burke, the Council’s resident expert on Robert’s Rules of Order, shouted from the floor and pointed his finger toward the mayor.

“Standing up and yelling without seeking recognition is not something that’s appropriate,” the mayor told Burke, her political nemesis.

“I have considered your appeal, and I’ve denied it.”

It wasn’t the first time Lightfoot has been accused of trampling the rules to serve her own purpose.

King accused the mayor of doing the same last month after two mayoral allies used a parliamentary maneuver to temporarily delay a vote on the proposal championed by King and Moore to rename Lake Shore Drive in honor of DuSable, the Black man of Haitian descent who was Chicago’s first non-indigenous settler.

“The rules of order for the City Council were not taken into consideration. I felt that this was inequity playing out,” King said.

“We just saw, not 10 minutes earlier, her zoning chair do the same thing that I did, and she deferred to him. It’s insulting ... as a Black woman, to see that happening. But she deferred to him, and I expected that same deference when it came to me. That wasn’t done.”