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A letter from the Mullen Law Firm at the Westside Justice Center in Chicago is casting doubt on the legality of the final meeting of the 80th Evanston City Council and the first meeting of the 81st City Council, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. respectively on May 10.
The letter, from attorney Ed Mullen, was sent via email on May 7 to the six people who will be new faces at the City: Mayor-Elect Daniel Biss, City Clerk-Elect Stephanie Mendoza, and Aldermen-Elect Clare Kelly, Jonathan Nieuwsma, Bobby Burns, and Devon Reid.
Mr. Mullen writes, “I have been asked to provide you with a legal opinion as to whether the City of Evanston’s scheduled City Council meetings on May 10, 2021, wherein the outgoing City Council is scheduled to meet and conduct business at the first meeting [scheduled for 4:30 p.m.], followed by a second meeting [scheduled for 7:30 p.m.] where the newly elected City Council will be sworn in to begin their terms, complies with the Illinois Municipal Code.”
The agenda of the 4:30 p.m. meeting contains several significant items on which members of the current, or 80th, City Council will vote.
These include the lease of the Harley Clarke mansion, changes to the City’s leaf-blower ordinance, approval of the contract for selling water to Skokie, approval to begin to negotiate the sale of the City-owned property on Central Street that formerly housed the North Branch Library, the approval of meeting dates for a public hearing and a Joint Review Board meeting about the proposed Fifth Ward tax-increment financing (TIF) district, and two items that remove citizen input from public processes: proposed change in the City’s Board of Ethics procedures and certain special use processes.
The agenda for the 7:30 p.m. meeting lists the administration of the oaths of office, remarks, and call of the wards.
Mr. Mullen says his legal opinion is that the 4:30 meeting of the outgoing City Council – the 80th – would violate Section 5/3.1-10-15 of the Illinois Municipal Code if the newly elected City Council members are not sworn in at that meeting to begin their terms of office then.
His letter states, “Section 5/3.1-10-15 of the Illinois Municipal Code provides that: ‘The terms of elected municipal officers shall commence at the first regular or special meeting of the corporate authorities after receipt of the official election results from the county clerk of the regular municipal election at which the officers were elected, except as otherwise provided by ordinance fixing the date for inauguration of newly elected officers of a municipality.’”
Since the City has no ordinance explicitly specifying the inauguration date for City officials after the first regular meeting of the City Council, Mr. Mullen’s letter said, the Illinois Municipal Code applies and the new City officials should be sworn it at the first meeting, at 4:30 p.m. on May 10.
Doing so would allow the newly elected alderpersons (an ordinance allowing a gender-neutral term to replace “alderman” is also on the agenda) to vote on those and other agenda items.
In response to Mr. Mullen’s letter, Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings wrote to members of the 80th and 81st City Councils and both the newly elected and retiring City Clerk, “… the terms of the Council Members of the 80th City Council do not expire until the end of four years and their replacements are both elected and qualified.”
His letter also said there may be “outstanding questions regarding whether any member is indebted to the City or if there are any prior convictions for certain crimes and no oath has been given.”
Mr. Cummings referred the RoundTable to Section 1-5-2 of the City Code, “Qualifications for Alderman.” The Section reads as follows:
- No person shall be eligible to the office of Alderman:
- (A) Unless he/she is a qualified elector of the City and has resided therein at least one year next preceding his/her election;
- (B) Unless he/she resides within the ward for which he/she is elected; 12
- (C) If he/she is in arrears in the payment of any tax or other indebtedness due the City; or
- (D) If he/she has been convicted in any court located in the United States of any infamous crime, bribery, perjury, or other felony.
- (E) Those exceptions to the above residency requirements based on military service, as set forth in 65 ILCS 5/3.1-10-5, shall apply. Except for the position of Acting Mayor or Mayor Pro Tem, no Alderman shall be eligible to any office of which the salary is payable out of the City Treasury, if, at the time of his/her appointment to such an office, he/she is a member of the City Council, pursuant to 65 ILCS
Mr. Cummings said in his letter he believed that a court would uphold any actions taken by the 80th (current) City Council, should they be challenged in court. He added that Ninth Ward Alderman Cicely Fleming has made a reference to the Rules Committee to set an inauguration date for newly elected City officials.