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Aldermen Would Have To Actually Show Up For Committee Meetings To Proceed Under New Proposal

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson's (11th) plan to require taking attendance at committee meetings would reverse decades of tradition at City Hall.

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson
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CITY HALL — City Council committees would have to take a vote to determine whether a majority of aldermen are present before getting underway, according to a proposal authored by Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) set to be considered by aldermen on Monday.

The change would require each committee chair to take attendance at the start of every meeting to determine whether a quorum — the minimum number of aldermen who must be present at committee meetings to make the proceedings valid — is present.

That change to be discussed by the City Council’s Rules Committee at 11 a.m. Monday would reverse decades of tradition at City Hall, where committees are assumed to have a quorum present, despite the lack of a formal vote, even if only two aldermen are in attendance.

The change would also remove a tool used by aldermen to block consideration of proposals they opposed by shutting down meetings without a majority of aldermen present. 

Several times during the final months of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s time in office, aldermen demanded a quorum vote when a majority of aldermen were not present. If a roll call vote determines a quorum is not present, the meeting is required to adjourn immediately.

For example, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) used the parliamentary technique in December 2018 to attempt to block a new pilot program for Pilsen and Little Village under the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance. Although he called for a quorum vote, none was held — and the committee advanced the proposal in an apparent violation of the rules that was never resolved.

However, former Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) was successful in April, when she called for a quorum vote to stop the City Council’s Zoning Committee meeting from advancing a proposal to fill the gaping hole at the heart of the Six Corners Shopping District with a 248-unit senior living facility at the request of Jim Gardiner, who was then alderman-elect of the 45th Ward and opposed the project. That proposal has yet to get a vote in the Zoning Committee, despite the endorsement of the Plan Commission.

Many committees frequently rubber-stamp agendas with dozens of routine items in a matter of minutes — often without a quorum.

A joint analysis by WBEZ and The Daily Line of City Council attendance records between 2015 and 2018 found that if Chicago City Council members got graded for how often they show up to required meetings at City Hall, the average alderman would get a D.

Daley Thompson attended 86 percent of committee meetings, among the highest of his colleagues, according to the analysis.

When Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) took over the City Council’s powerful Zoning Committee after the inauguration of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Tunney announced he would take roll at the start of every meeting to determine whether there was a quorum present — just as Clerk Anna Valencia does before every meeting of the full City Council.

Tunney called roll to determine whether a quorum was present only that one time.

Daley Thompson’s measure would also require half of all committee meetings to take place after 6 p.m. — another significant change since committee chairs almost never schedule meetings later than 1 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays.

The Rules Committee is also set to consider a measure from Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) calling for Valencia’s office to develop a system to allow aldermen to co-sponsor ordinances and resolutions electronically, rather than filing a paper copy with the clerk’s office.

In addition, aldermen are set to consider a proposal from Lopez that would allow aldermen to use their expense accounts — which will grow by $25,000 in 2020 — to publish “an annual calendar regarding citywide and ward specific information, events and holidays.”

The measure is co-sponsored by 37 aldermen.

The full City Council is scheduled to consider on Dec. 18 a measure from Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) that would allow aldermen to use their aldermanic office budgets to host document shredding and electronic recycling events. That measure was approved by the Budget and Government Operations committee on Tuesday.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners in September rejected a proposal from Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown to spend $19,700 to order 10,000 calendars to hang around the Daley Center. Commissioners rejected the request, saying printed calendars were outdated and the request was a clear attempt by Brown to promote herself by using taxpayer funds.

Credit: Patrick Daley Thompson/Facebook
Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson