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New Eighth Ward Alderperson Devon Reid wasted little time putting his agenda into action, asking officials at the City Council’s inaugural meeting May 10 to consider making beach tokens free and establishing hazardous pay for retail employees who have been working at the City’s larger retail stores during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ald. Reid made his proposals shortly after he and fellow members were seated as members of the 81st City Council, in what typically in the past has been a ceremonial meeting with little City business conducted.
He called for the items to be placed in the agenda as a special order of business at the Council’s next meeting, May 24.
Some other Council members argued the proposals should go through the normal Committee hearing process, allowing staff to gather information around the issues and for constituents and others to be brought into the discussion.
Ald. Reid, formerly Evanston City Clerk, proposed that the City tap a $2 million surplus in its 2020 budget to cover the loss of revenues from beach token sales.
By doing so, he said, “we can use a portion of that to make the beaches accessible to every resident this summer and end the exclusionary and, dare I say, racist policy of charging for beach access.”
He then proposed that discussion of the issue be set as a special order of business for the May 24 meeting.
In discussion, Alderperson Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, a member of the Council since 2011, said an issue such as Ald. Reid raised will have financial impact, and will require data and information. He said the matter is “also in need of a healthy dialogue.
“To me your ideas had values, like the portion that you will take from the existing budget,” Ald. Braithwaite told Ald. Reid. “I don’t know if we can make that change so quickly. So I think it deserves a good conversation. My advice to consider is send this to the committee so you can get the data and statistics.”
With beach tokens already being sold for this beach season, Ald. Reid said, the proposal he is recommending could be tested out as part of a pilot program.
As for the need for further information, Mr. Reid said he already knows that beach token sales are currently generating about $800,000 in revenue for the City.
In a 9-0 vote, the newly seated Council approved the item to appear on the May 24 agenda.
Ald. Reid also called for aldermen to establish hazardous pay for employees working at the City’s larger food and retail stores during the COVID-19 pandemic as a special order of business at the same meeting.
He noted that large retailers nationally are the primary points of distribution for food and other daily necessities for residents of Evanston and are therefore “essential to the vitality of our community.”
With the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program reporting those stores are making record profits during the pandemic, he said, he is requesting a requirement protecting employees of those establishments.
A proposal establishing hazard pay for work performed in Evanston during the COVID-19 emergency “will promote job retention, compensate them for the risk of working on the frontlines of a global pandemic, improve their financial ability to access to access resources for protecting themselves and their families from catching or spreading the virus, or coping with illness caused by the virus, and support the welfare of the greater community that depends on these essential workers for safe reliable access to food, medicine and household goods,” Ald. Reid said.
Concern About a ‘Rushed Process’
Acknowledging Ald. Reid was raising a significant issue, Alderperson Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, argued that rather than a special order of business, which places an issue before the Council for action, “this is something that requires a thorough community discussion, where we bring in all of the interests, to have what’s a really important discussion about fair wages.”
She argued the issue be referred to a City committee, “and go through the regular process of developing discussion, bringing in stakeholders, and having the draft ordinance reviewed by legal staff.”
She said the process would allow the Council to bring others into discussion and also “hear from our constituents.
“Putting something as special order of business,” she said, “is usually something that we’ve had a lot of discussion or we’re putting it on as a special topic. This is clearly a significant issue that is important that it should go through our committee process,” she said.
Ald. Reid said he agreed he wished the Council would have a longer discussion of this issue, but there was a matter of urgency.
“This has been around for the last year, I think we’re we have to do right by these employees and act now and act swiftly.”
On his part, he said he planned to invite to the Council discussion representatives from the food workers union, merchants, and retailer associations, as well as “any economist that I can find they will also be willing to come and provide testimony on this issue.”
The item will be placed on the May 24 agenda for introduction, he further stressed. He pointed out that previous Councils have used special order of business in the past, noting that aldermen did do that a few years ago on the handling of Freedom of Information requests, feeling an action is needed.
In this case, he told Council members, “employees are putting their lives on the line for us to ensure that we can have food and access to resources, I can see no better reason to place an item on the agenda as a special order of business than that.”
Ald. Wynne, with her election the senior member of the Council, pointed out that setting an item as a Special Order of Business for action “is a very foreshortening process. It’s not the same as having a thorough discussion where the staff has been able to do more research and there’s been this whole conversation,” she said, stressing she would not support a “rush process.
“Let’s use a system to bring in all the stakeholders; let’s have a discussion with the community on this issue,” she urged.
“And then let’s vote.”
Ald. Braithwaite brought up the discussion members of the previous Council held over raising the minimum wage some years back.
“When we rushed that process, it created a lot of confusion,” he maintained. In this case, he asked for time to have a discussion with business owners in his ward, “because our decisions have an impact.” He reminded Council members “it’s what everyone ran on in terms of progressive transparency.”
Clears by a 5-4 vote
Other members of the new Council chimed in. Fourth Ward Alderperson Jonathan Nieuwsma said, “Council Member Reid, the big idea is a bold idea, and I support the concept, but I share the concerns of Council Member Wynne [and] Council Member Braithwaite, that such a bold idea needs to be deliberated and stakeholders need to be engaged in this decision, and I would not want to risk the long-term viability of this idea, by, by foreshortening.”
Fifth Ward Alderperson Bobby Burns, who seconded Ald. Reid’s motion, said that he supported designating the hazardous pay proposal as a special order of business to acknowledge “the time sensitive nature of the fact that this is really your [the City’s] response to COVID, and people are going to work every day.”
He stressed that he did not view the hazard pay as a permanent wage increase.
“I think this is the time to either do it or not do it but I just want to be clear that I share the same concerns about the impact to business.”
Ald. Reid stressed that the language in his proposal would be written to apply to the larger retailers, naming Target, Jewel, Whole Foods, as well as CVS and Walgreens.
New Mayor Daniel Biss called for a vote on whether to place Alderperson Reid’s proposal for hazard pay on the City Council’s May 24 agenda.
Voting in support were Alderpersons Reid and Burns as well as Clare Kelly, 1st Ward; Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward; and Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward.
Voting against making it a special order of business were Alderperson Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, and Alds. Braithwaite, Wynne, and Nieuwsma.