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Local News

Bid to modify Yorkville mayor's emergency powers ordinance dies for lack of second

UPDATED 6:30 P.M. WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24:

YORKVILLE – A motion to approve a modified ordinance that grants the Yorkville mayor emergency powers died during the Tuesday, June 23 City Council meeting.

Per the meeting agenda, the Yorkville City Council was set to discuss the proposal for the ordinance during their Tuesday, June 23 meeting. All aldermen were present for the meeting, with the majority attending remotely. However, no one seconded the motion to approve the changes during the meeting, meaning the motion died and there was no roll-call vote recorded on the modified ordinance.

Yorkville Mayor John Purcell said he wasn't sure why that happened. He said it could be attributed to a technology issue or a misunderstanding via Zoom, possibly. He declined further comment on the matter.

Ward 1 Alderman Dan Transier, who previously expressed concerns about the ordinance before Purcell modified it, said on Wednesday he thought the law was unnecessary to begin with. He said he thinks bad laws tend to be passed when they're passed in response to infrequent events.

Transier said he personally still didn't see a point in passing it on Tuesday, since he thought there wasn't a need to extend those powers for one person and there are already response mechanisms in place including city police, for example.

"As you saw, none of the other aldermen jumped on that, either," he said.

However, Transier couldn't directly speak to exactly why other aldermen didn't second the motion to approve the ordinance, he said.

The update came after city staff, aldermen and Purcell discussed the ordinance during the June 9 City Council meeting and the mayor made changes to the ordinance to address the council's concerns about use of authority beyond Purcell's term as mayor.

City Administrator Bart Olson wrote in a Wednesday, June 17 memo the two changes include the ordinance expiring with the current term of the mayor as opposed to being passed on a more permanent basis, along with clarification that any civil emergency order issued under the ordinance would expire at the next City Council meeting after the order is issued.

"But if an order was ever issued for a reason that the City Council did not agree with it, any three aldermen can call a special City Council meeting to rescind the order or the entire civil emergencies ordinance," Olson wrote.

The City Council also previously voted unanimously to delay action on an ordinance that would grant the mayor the ability to enter into agreements for public enforcement of pedestrian and traffic codes on private commercial properties to the city's July 2 public safety committee meeting.

Regarding the commercial property enforcement ordinance, city officials said during the June 9 meeting several conversations with private property owners and neighboring cities or villages about issues related to policing on private property.

Olson wrote in a June 4 memo those conversations generally revolve around stop sign, speed limit or fire lane violation enforcement, but more recently included concerns about overnight parking and other loitering-related issues. He wrote private property owners would still be able to tow cars off of their own property, but the agreement would allow police to tow a vehicle that violated a signed restriction, like overnight parking.

"We do not envision that to be a frequent occurrence, but it is helpful to have on the books for any unusual circumstances," Olson wrote in the June 4 memo.

The initial conversations came after area communities – including DeKalb, Sycamore and Aurora – were the sites of peaceful protests, which followed the police-involved death of Minneapolis man George Floyd on May 25. After those initial protests disbanded, arrests related to looting and property destruction later occurred in DeKalb and Aurora.

Previously, the City Council granted emergency powers to the mayor in light of the COVID-19 pandemic during their March 24 and April 14 meetings.

Kathy Field Orr, attorney for United City of Yorkville, said the proposed civil emergencies ordinance would have given those powers directly to the mayor until the next City Council meeting, which could be about two weeks. She said the ordinance was brought to her attention in light of civil unrest in the area and throughout the country in the last few weeks.

"I can't imagine it being abused because of the impact it would have on businesses and the use of the streets with our businessmen, as well as – more importantly – our residents," Orr said. "So that I do believe, possibly having this in our code book, we would be better prepared for the mayor to act at a moment's notice."

Currently, the city's mayor can enact emergency declarations on their own for a duration of seven days or the next City Council meeting, whichever comes first, Orr said. The previous two emergency declarations that had been approved and enacted so far related to COVID-19 were approved by the City Council and not enacted by Purcell alone, she said.

Transier said he wanted to have a better idea of what would determine the behavior of two or more people, per the ordinance, would cross from being obnoxious to threatening and who would get to make that call.

Aldermen also said during the June 9 meeting they wanted to ensure appropriate checks and balances would be in place for the civil emergency ordinance. The concern wasn't that the current mayor would abuse the power, they said, but what it would mean beyond Purcell's term.

"I don't see that situation arising right now, but we've got to be cognizant of the laws that we pass now," Transier said. "The ordinances that we pass now are going to be in effect 10 or 20 years from now. Who knows who's going to be at the helm in 2040?"

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 23. For those who want to participate remotely, more information on Zoom meeting instructions can be found online at yorkville.il.us/520/Agendas-Minutes-Packets.

• This story has been updated following the Tuesday meeting.

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