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Aldermen hold dry run for April 15 virtual City Council meeting

The tentative plan is to hold the meeting on Zoom with passwords and other security safeguards to prevent the meeting from being hijacked by mischief-making pirates. Public participation will be via telephone.

Like a lot of people working from home, the Chicago City Council plans to gather online for its next official meeting. They did a dry run this week.
Like a lot of people working from home, the Chicago City Council plans to gather online for its next official meeting. They did a dry run this week.
Provided

Chicago aldermen and top mayoral aides on Tuesday held a dry run for next week’s virtual City Council meeting, but questions remain about how it all will work.

The tentative plan is to hold the meeting on Zoom with passwords and other security safeguards to prevent the meeting from being hijacked by mischief-making pirates.

That’s what happened last week when a news conference organized by aldermen and state legislators to put pressure on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to shut down pollution-generating businesses during the pandemic was sabotaged by hackers flashing pornography.

“I don’t think that will be an issue. A lot of that had to do with improper security settings and things of that nature,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

Public participation will be on the telephone. Members of the public who normally line up outside council chambers for the right to a coveted slot during the 30-minute segment will be asked to call a specific number and placed in a queue based on the order of their call.

The tentative plan calls for the council to adopt emergency rules allowing aldermen to conduct substantive city business virtually at a subsequent meeting.

But some aldermen are concerned that to be absolutely certain the subsequent votes they take are on solid ground it would be wiser for 26 “brave souls,” as Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) put it, to show up in person in council chambers to adopt the new rules.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, and Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) talk to Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman last year.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, and Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) talk to Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman last year.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

“The Law Department believes that we can proceed virtually, but if we can get 26 aldermen to walk into the chamber — even if it’s just to adopt the rules and get the hell out — I would rather be on rock-solid footing than just on regular ground,” Lopez said.

“We have no precedent for allowing for remote voting. If we proceed without making sure we’re on solid ground, we open ourselves up to lawsuits that could threaten to undo whatever it is we’re voting on. There’s gonna be the issue of the police superintendent, possibly budgetary issues that we have to address as well as zoning. ... All of that would be in jeopardy if we’re not putting our best foot forward.”

Ervin noted that Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul have “issued some guidance” about emergency rules for public meetings held during the coronavirus pandemic.

But Ervin said he’s not certain “what the governor’s powers are in this case.”

“Traditionally, what I remember it to be is that a quorum must be physically present and then other members may join. Our rules currently do not allow for that. If the governor’s authority to relax those rules is fine, then we would not have a problem in doing that. If that’s not the case, then we have to revisit how do we adopt those rules,” Ervin said.

Both Ervin and Lopez said they believe the plan is to hold a short virtual meeting to adopt the new rules, then adjourn for a week to consider more substantive issues, including the confirmation of newly appointed Police Supt. David Brown.

Others say there could be some substantive business conducted at next week’s meeting, depending on how comfortable aldermen and their staffs are with the new technology.

“This method may be the way that we have to conduct business for the foreseeable future. As long as we can meet the basic standards of allowing public participation and having general debate, I don’t see a reason why we can’t move forward,” Ervin said.