In a hastily called “emergency” meeting of City Council on June 30, the City of Evanston “opted in” to the Cook County ordinance increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour effective July 1 and mandatory paid sick leave. Under its power as a home-rule community, Evanston could have opted out of the legislation and retained the statewide minimum wage. By taking no action Friday, the City effectively opted in.
Hundreds of residents descended upon Council chambers, many of them openly angry that the meeting had been called at all. Many questioned the legality of the meeting – the state Open Meetings Act requires at least 48 hours’ notice for a special meeting and when the RoundTable pointed out the lack of proper notice, ,the City changed the meeting to an “emergency” meeting. The emergency cited was the votes of other nearby communities such as Wilmette and Glenview to opt out, and the upcoming votes of Oak Park and Skokie to decide whether those communities would opt out as well. It is unclear whether these actions by other municipalities constituted an “emergency” within the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
In an emergency meeting Friday evening, just hours after Evanston’s meeting, Oak Park’s trustees decided to opt in as well.
The emergency meeting specifically called for an ordinance, recommended by Mayor Steve Hagerty, that would have opted out of the minimum wage increase for a 10-day period allowing for notice and full consideration at Council’s July 10 meeting. Mayor Hagerty’s memo referred to Wilmette’s decision, Oak Park’s planned meeting, and stated that “Skokie announced its intention to opt out of the Cook County Ordinance.” An attachment to Wilmette’s meeting packet listed 81 home rule communities who opted out.
Mayor Hagerty addressed to boisterous and engaged crowd before the meeting began. He read from a prepared statement, saying, “In light of several of our neighboring and sometimes competing communities opting out … I felt it incumbent upon my responsibilities as mayor to offer up to our own community and Council an opportunity to directly discuss and address this important time sensitive matter.” He called the process “open, transparent, and honest government.”
“To ensure that everyone very clearly understands my personal position … It’s simple and that which I have reinforced since I initiated my campaign. I will reinforce it again right now. I currently support the implementation of the Cook County ordinance,” said the Mayor, and cheers erupted in Chambers.
He then addressed concerns over calling an emergency meeting and proposing an ordinance opting out until July 11. “Many have unfortunately and mistakenly taken my call for an open and transparent dialogue on this issue as a modification of my position. That could not be further from the truth….,” he said.
All of the aldermen then spoke in support of opting in, though some called on the crowd to take their activism further by pointing out the possible ramifications of higher minimum wage and mandatory paid sick leave. “Retail is suffering, and it’s suffering because of the Internet,” said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward. People often shop in local stores with the expert assistance of shopkeepers, then leave and buy what they saw online, she said, She challenged Evanston to do better.
If the minimum wage is to work here, she said, “You must buy locally and not off the Internet … If you can buy it in Evanston, you must buy it here so that businesses who are now paying the [higher] minimum wage continue to stay open. . If you have to pay a little bit more to buy it in Evanston, you must make the sacrifice. This is what we have to do… take this great activism and turn it out into the community.”
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, also encouraged residents to shop locally. “With this increase we will have to support our local businesses, and some of us will have to change our behavior,” he said. He warned residents that higher prices for some products and services might result. “Hopefully, this will not result in cutting employees,” he added. He also said his Minority, Women and Evanston Based Enterprises committee was looking for more ways to keep dollars in Evanston, “tying to increase recycling of our local dollars.”
Since the announcement of the special (later emergency) meeting, social media, email, and phone lines buzzed with often angry calls, a fact mentioned by a number of aldermen. Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, led off the discussion by trying to head off some of the anger and spirited passion in the crowd. “It was always my intention to allow the Cook County ordinance to take effect,” he said. The community did not fully understand what was happening, with many asking why the Council had not affirmatively opted in.” Ald. Wilson said for that reason, the emergency meeting made since – it allowed Council to explain that opting in was automatic – a home rule community had to affirmatively opt out, and by doing nothing Evanston automatically opted in.
“The emergency meeting was not an attempt to sneak something by,” Ald. Wilson said to boos and hisses from portions of the crowd.
He then addressed the tenor and tone on social media platforms. “People have said hateful things. The easiest tool we have as a governing body” is open City Council meetings, “I can’t do my job on Facebook.” He said he remained willing to listen to everyone.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, took issue with the emergency meeting. “I have mixed feelings about this meeting,” she said, adding, “it should have been cancelled. “People should be working and earning instead of coming to a meeting” on a Friday morning during normal working hours. “I just don’t understand how lately we force people to advocate” for everything. She called the process tiring, referencing the Harley Clarke debate. “Let’s get on with it. Let’s go back to work,” she said.
She also referenced the tone of emails and social media posts. “It’s shocking that people wrote to me and said, ‘How dare you not support the minimum wage!’ Me? My mother was a union steward.”
“I work in perception. That’s what rules people,” said Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward. “Even with us opting in, there’s some things we need to work on in Evanston.” She then challenged to crowd to participate in the process early, to come to Council meetings and advocate, mentioning the budget process specifically. “Please do not email me after the budget has passed.”
The remaining aldermen all expressed support. Representative Jan Schakowsky and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin also addressed Council praising the City for its decision to opt in, even as an island among communities who chose to opt out.
The minimum wage in Evanston is now $10 per hour, and will increase to $13 per hour by 2020. The community awaits action at the state and federal level, which may or may not catch up with Evanston.
Just to the south, Chicago’s minimum wage increased to $11 per hour July 1 as well, and will increase to $15 per hour in the coming years.