Chicago Local Governments’ Executive Orders Provide for Continuance of Government Functions During the COVID-19 Crisis

April 17, 2020

As discussed in a previous blog post, the unprecedented public health emergency brought on by coronavirus has led local governments in Illinois to enact emergency measures and loosen rules related to the Open Meetings Act. Local government bodies have been meeting remotely pursuant to Illinois Governor JB Pritzker’s Executive Order 2020-07 issued on March 16. In the absence of normal meetings and business as usual, and in the interest of keeping government running, the boards and councils that oversee local government bodies in Chicago have temporarily put more authority in the hands of executive leadership and staff, enabling them to make decisions and take actions without going through the normally required approval process.

City of Chicago

The Chicago City Council meeting originally set for March 18 was postponed, and reconvened on April 15 via videoconference. The meeting was livestreamed on the City Clerk’s website. The only business covered was the suspension of the normal meeting rules, in order to allow the City Council to meet remotely. Another meeting is scheduled for April 22, at which more substantive issues are expected to be covered, including a decision on the confirmation of a new Chicago Police Superintendent.

To allow for the continuance of government functions in the absence of normal in-person meetings, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued an executive order on March 18 declaring a state of emergency and authorizing:

  • The City’s Chief Procurement Officer to negotiate and execute contracts for emergency supplies and services up to $1 million;
  • The Budget Director to establish new funding lines and transfer or reallocate funds already appropriated;
  • The Commissioner of Assets, Information and Services to enter into temporary agreements for using property to address the coronavirus emergency;
  • The Human Resources Commissioner to amend the City’s Sick Leave Policy, allowing employees to receive additional paid time off for absences due to a coronavirus illness or isolation order; and
  • Continued payment to City employees of regular salaries, wages and benefits, even for those whose jobs are disrupted and discontinued due to coronavirus.

The executive order will remain in place until the Commissioner of Public Health determines that the threat to public health has diminished to the point the order can be safely repealed.

Chicago Public Schools

All public schools in Illinois have been ordered to remain closed through April 30. The Chicago Public Schools Board of Education held its March 25 meeting remotely, which was streamed online to the public.

At the meeting, the Board of Education approved a resolution that authorizes expenditures and actions in response to coronavirus without Board approval, including:

  • Expenditures of up to $75 million in aggregate;
  • Executing contracts and amendments or extensions of existing contracts to purchase necessary supplies;
  • Issuing purchase orders above $75,000 (but not to exceed a total of $75 million); and
  • Authorizing short-term extensions on expiring contracts.

The Board explained that this authorization will allow the CPS leadership team the flexibility needed to make decisions before the Board of Education meets again in late April. While the approved spending authority of up to $75 million is in addition to the FY2020 budget the Board approved in August 2019, Board members made clear that this is not money CPS already has available. The District will need to work out how it will cover any coronavirus-related expenses.

The spending authority is intended to cover necessities including digital learning tools for CPS families without access to technology, meal programs for students and emergency personnel, especially custodial and food service staff. Staff are required to provide reports on spending and other actions taken to the Board of Education beginning in July, and CPS Chief Executive Officer Dr. Janice Jackson said in the meantime she would provide updates at each monthly Board meeting.

Cook County

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has issued a series of executive orders in response to COVID-19 (available for download here). The executive orders provide directives to County employees and boards and commissions that place restrictions on meetings, work travel and public access to buildings.

All meetings of Cook County’s governing body, the Board of Commissioners, and its committees, were cancelled for the month of March. All committee meetings originally scheduled for April have been cancelled, but the Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet remotely for the Board’s previously scheduled April 23 meeting. The meeting will be livestreamed on the County’s website.

In the absence of Cook County Board and Cook County Health Board meetings, President Preckwinkle authorized staff to take actions that would normally require governing board approval. Executive Order 2020-4 authorizes:

  • The Cook County Chief Procurement Officer and the Cook County Health Chief Procurement Officer to approve and execute Cook County procurements, expenditures, contracts and contract amendments without prior approval through May 1, 2020;
  • The Cook County Budget Director to approve budgetary transfer requests that would otherwise require governing board approval, and apply, accept or authorize any grants that would otherwise require governing board approval, through May 1, 2020; and
  • The Cook County Comptroller to issue payments for court ordered payments, workers’ compensation claims, settlements and other payments that would normally require approval by the Finance Committees of the Cook County Board of Commissioners or the Cook County Health Board. (This authorization was also made in Executive Order 2020-1.)

Each of these staff members is required to issue a report to the Board of Commissioners and Cook County Health Board on actions taken under this authority on the 15th of each month.