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Evanston City Council members will be required to be vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19 or otherwise show they tested negative for the disease as soon as the Feb. 14 City Council meeting.
By an 8-0 vote, City Council members Jan. 24 approved a recommendation from the city’s Health and Human Services Department that requires vaccination or a recent negative test for elected officials. This mirrors a vaccine mandate for city employees that went into effect last fall.
The resolution amends council rules to require council members to be fully vaccinated.
A member of City Council who chooses to not be vaccinated will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of a City Council meeting.
Any member who fails to comply could face discipline, which could include being barred from participating in meetings should two-thirds of the council members so vote.
In discussion, Fifth Ward Council member Bobby Burns asked whether the policy would apply to a virtual council or council committee meeting.
Burns and Council member Devin Reid, 8th Ward, are the only Council members who did not respond to a RoundTable survey late last year about their vaccination status.
This week, the RoundTable asked Burns and Reid about their vaccination status. Burns did not respond to calls or emails, and Reid’s response did not answer the question.
All the others who sit on the dais during a City Council meeting – the ward representatives, the mayor and the City Clerk – have said they received the vaccinations mandated under the new policy.
Staff policy applies to meetings both in-person and remote
Pursuing the question further, Burns asked, “If we decide to meet virtually or remotely and if a committee decides to meet remotely, will members who are unvaccinated still need to provide proof that they have been tested?”
Speaking on behalf of city staff, Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski said, “Staff may at times hold remote meetings, but we still have a policy in place [requiring vaccinations or testing] because there are times that we meet all together in person.”
In weighing Burn’s question, Mayor Daniel Biss differentiated between the two groups, staff and Council members.
“The city staff, they work for us all the time, so the rule for the city staff is, ‘Test negative weekly,’” he said. “But the resolution for the City Council is, ‘Test negative right before council meetings.’”
Further, he stressed that the new rule was proposed with the goal of the council returning to in-person meetings, starting with the next scheduled regular meeting, Feb. 14.
“There’s no plan [set], but my hope would be to have [the Feb. 14 meeting] in-person,” Biss said, “and one of the things that I think would make it easier to make that decision [would be to pass] something tonight that includes what was in the packet, so we will have a vaccine or test regimen for council members in place by then.”
The council approved the mandatory policy, including an amendment from Burns that it be limited to in-person meetings.
Meanwhile, Reid argued that the mandatory vaccine and testing policy be extended to include all of the city boards, commissions and committees and the City Clerk’s office as well.
Reid, who served as City Clerk before his election to the council in April, noted, “Our Clerk not only attends City Council meetings. They [Clerk’s office staff] work within the building and interact with patrons outside of that.”
City Clerk Stephanie Mendoza had already requested earlier in the meeting that her office be included under the new policy. “I’m fully vaccinated, boosted and have young children, so I would very much welcome if one of you could make that amendment,” she said to council members.
Council members voted 8-0 to consider at the Feb. 14 meeting whether to extend the requirements to members of city boards, commissions and committees, as well as to the Clerk’s office.
In addition, Reid said he would “love to see some ARPA [federal American Recovery Plan Act COVID-19] funds or just city funds” go toward the purchase of KN95 and N95 protective masks for members of the citizen groups as well as council members and those attending council meetings.
He also said he wondered whether officials should set an expiration date for the policy or revisit it within a year.
“Maybe at that point, the vaccines are more effective, and we have things under more control, and it’s more like the flu,” he said, noting that a flu vaccine or a testing regimen is not in place for that illness.