Deal paves way for City Council to OK Lightfoot’s stalled sign proposal, ordinance: aldermen

Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared headed for a second City Council defeat on aldermanic prerogative, but an eleventh-hour compromise could avert that showdown, according to License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts.

SHARE Deal paves way for City Council to OK Lightfoot’s stalled sign proposal, ordinance: aldermen
Chicago City Hall, with the Board of Trade building in the background.

Chicago City Hall, with the Board of Trade building in the background.

Sun-Times file

It looks like Mayor Lori Lightfoot has managed to avoid a second straight City Council defeat on the issue of aldermanic prerogative.

On the eve of the last Council meeting before a summer recess, a deal has been reached on a compromise version of the stalled sign portion of the mayor’s pandemic relief package, paving the way for a final vote at Wednesday’s meeting.

Downtown Aldermen Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) said the compromise language satisfies their concerns.

“If the aldermen and the department both agree that the application is code compliant and there’s no issue, the department can automatically issue the permit without the need for it be codified as an ordinance. The alderman has 30 days. ... So, it’s possible that an application like this can be issued in less than a month. This could shave a lot of time off the process,” Hopkins said.

“If the alderman ... says the permit should not be issued and the department thinks it should, then the applicant is required to submit their own ordinance to the City Council. ... And you’d have the local alderman kind of relying on his colleagues to go along with him and deny the application.”

Hopkins described that revised process as no different than how it works for aldermanic prerogative over zoning.

“There’s nothing to stop an applicant from going forward with a proposed zoning change ... over the objections of the local alderman. But then, it’s up to that local alderman to say to his or her colleagues, ‘Please stand with me and oppose this.’ It’s really the same concept. I can envision some rare circumstances where aldermen would override the local alderman on something like that.”

Reilly went so far as to write a letter to his colleagues urging them to support the substitute ordinance because it “achieves our shared objective” to issue sign permits “much faster while preserving aldermanic authority in the process.”

“I believe we have arrived upon a fair compromise with a more reasonable ordinance that will greatly reduce the time it take for businesses to receive their approved permits,” Reilly wrote.

“In those rare cases when the local alderperson and the commissioner disagree on the issuance of a permit, the legislative process would be used to determine the final outcome. ... I hope you agree that this compromise strikes a fair balance between executive and legislative authority on permits.”

A statement released by the mayor’s office quoted Lightfoot as saying yet again that Chicago’s post-pandemic recovery requires city officials to “boldly reimagine the way we do business.”

“Speed is absolutely key to this recovery, meaning that the quicker we issue licenses and permits, the quicker our economy is able to bounce back from this crisis,” the mayor was quoted as saying.

“I want to thank Alderman Reilly and Chairman [Emma] Mitts for their willingness to work collaboratively on this revised ordinance, which will eliminate an unnecessary burden for thousands of our small business owners.”

The issue of aldermanic prerogative has divided the mayor and aldermen since Day One.

Last month, the City Council voted 25 to 24 to alter the mayor’s pandemic relief package, removing the sign portion, which was seen as invading aldermanic turf.

It would shave up to two months off the 150-day wait for business permits, signs and awnings by ending the long-standing practice of requiring a separate ordinance for each public way permit.

Hopkins and Reilly led their colleagues in the sign rebellion, arguing that aldermen “need to retain a role” in the approval process.

Retiring Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno has argued her only goal was helping businesses get the signs they need to attract customers.

“Look at all the corridors that have lost so many businesses. If they can get a nice sign — if they can get a little canopy or an awning or even a bench that says, `Come on in. I’m open — it will definitely help those businesses survive,” Escareno told the Sun-Times.

“We feel very strongly about this. This is about helping the businesses open. It’s always been about that. I understand that the aldermen have some concerns. And I try to resassure them … that the process of us trying to work together with the Council and the businesses has always been a staple of our department.”

At the request of the mayor’s office, Mitts has filed a so-called “Rule 41” declaring that at Wednesday’s Council meeting, she will discharge the sign ordinance from committee.

Now she plans to use that parliamentary maneuver to set the stage for a lopsided vote.

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