On Sept. 21, City Council adopted Ordinance 116-O-15, authorizing the “organizational realignment and consolidation of the City’s Executive Departments. The prose is florid, tempting one to use a machete for a blue editing pencil. Cutting a path to clarity, though, we find a couple of disturbing items.
Paragraph 5 of the Legislative Statement states that City Council and City staff are entitled to immunity for their actions in eliminating or reclassifying certain positions within the City government.
The ordinance states in part:
“Introduction, analysis, discussion, and passage of this ordinance are integral steps in the legislative process, and these legislative activities performed by City staff and the City Council are entitled to absolute legislative immunity. …
“The reorganization and consolidation reflects discretionary, policymaking decisions implicating the budgetary priorities of the City of Evanston, and as such, the U.S. Supreme Court stated these decisions are entitled to deference.
“The actions by the City’s staff and Council members in balancing competing interests and making judgment calls is entitled to immunity under 745 ILCS 10/2-109. This legitimate governmental reorganization is constitutionally proper and embodies valid, non-pretextual reasons to eliminate or reclassify certain Full Time Equivalent (FTE) positions.”
It is not clear why the City would feel it necessary to state again and again that City staff and Council members are entitled to immunity and that they are acting properly and with “non-pretextual reasons.”
A reader might come away with the implication that the City is fearful of being sued. Of course, putting into an ordinance that one is entitled to immunity does not make it so.
On a different matter, Section 3 of the ordinance contains language we have often seen before: “All ordinances or parts of ordinances in conflict herewith are hereby repealed.”
This pseudo-disclaimer has appeared in many, if not, all City ordinances for the past three years. These cover a wide range of topics. In no instance has an ordinance spelled out what ordinances are “thereby repealed.”
Has our City Code been rife with possibly conflicting ordinances that may have been repealed by one of the several hundreds of ordinances adopted by City Council over the years? What were they? Residents have no way of knowing what these are or were.
Residents have a right to know what the law is. The burden should be upon the City, not the citizens, to spell out what the law is – what was repealed and when and why and what ordinances still stand.
Lewis Carroll’s White Queen says as a young girl she believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
With our City Code, though, we don’t know what’s in and what’s out; what’s possible and what’s taboo and so we don’t know what to believe – even after breakfast.
We should be looking straight at a clear and concise City code – not through the looking-glass.