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Preckwinkle to seek extension of disaster proclamation until end of September — but one commissioner suggests it’s illegal

Preckwinkle’s March 10 order is set to expire at the end of May, though, if approved by the board of commissioners at their May 21 meeting, the order could be extended through Sept. 30.

Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, left, in 2019; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, right, in 2019.
Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, left, in 2019; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, right, in 2019.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times; Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is seeking an extension of the disaster proclamation that allows her to keep on making more unilateral decisions, hoping to stretch the order until the end of September, because the county remains “in the midst of, this historic crisis.”

But one commissioner questioned why Preckwinkle needs months more of the additional power, dubbing the move “a massive overreach.”

Preckwinkle’s original March 10 order is set to expire at the end of May, though, if approved by the County Board at its May 21 meeting, the order could be extended through Sept. 30.

Preckwinkle is seeking the extension because Cook County “is still responding to, and in the midst of, this historic crisis,” a spokesman said.

“This remains a challenging moment in our County’s history and we continue planning for Cook County’s recovery from this pandemic,” the statement continued. “This extension falls in alignment with our recently released Cook County COVID-19 Response Plan.”

A co-sponsor of the proposed resolution, Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, said there’s “more stability in giving a longer time frame now that we understand what’s happening” with the virus and what impact it will have on the county.

“If we’re meeting as we are now, we can always repeal this,” Suffredin said. “For purposes of planning ... if all you’re doing is doing things in 30-day increments, some of those things are harder to do. I think this is more prudent.”

The March order allows Preckwinkle to “issue any necessary Executive Orders to provide for the continuity of government to the extent possible, including addressing authorizations that may usually require the advance approval of the County Board; institute any such closures that may be necessary and implement any rules or regulation that may benefit the Cook County workforce and residents of Cook County during this Proclamation of Disaster” if the board or its Finance Committee are unable to meet in March or April.

The September extension, if passed, would “assist Cook County, by and through its Department of Emergency Management and Regional Security, to continue to coordinate county and municipal resources and response activities, in an effort to prevent and reduce further damage and hazards, protect the health and safety of persons, protect property and provide emergency assistance pursuant to Illinois law,” the resolution reads in part. There’s no mention in the updated language of Preckwinkle being able to issue any emergency executive orders she deems necessary, but Suffredin said she would still have those powers.

The county will need to set up more personal protective equipment distributions and purchases, as well as some work force issues, like how to make sure the courts have what they need to open safely, Suffredin said.

Commissioner Sean Morrison, R-Palos Park, didn’t see a need for the extension and said neither Preckwinkle nor her team — nor his fellow commissioners — reached out to explain the need for the 120-day extension of the proclamation.

“The governor is extending things in 30-day increments, why are we extending 120 days? We conducted a meeting just last month — there’s no reason to [have this order] anymore,” Morrison said. “This is a massive overreach. It was requested, rightfully so, the first time, but as I’m sitting here now there’s been no explanation so I couldn’t support it as I sit here right now.”

Morrison questioned the legality of extending the order and wondered if the county could face lawsuits, noting that Gov. J.B. Pritzker is being sued for extending his stay-at-home order.

Suffredin said he didn’t agree with his GOP colleague, arguing it makes sense to extend the order now that the summer, and the beginning of the county’s budget season, are looming ahead.

And Suffredin rejected any suggestion it was power grab.

“Power grabs are fun when having the power makes you really important, but a power grab in a pandemic just gives you more responsibility and stress,” Suffredin said. “I admire the way President Preckwinkle has handled the responsibility and stress and don’t find there’s any abuse of power here.

“This is a reasonable amount of time — it gets us through the summer and then we’re going to be in budget mode come Oct. 1, and we’re going to have to make a lot of decisions on the budget. September seemed more reasonable [than the end of the year].”