CHICAGO (CBS) — After grilling some of her top aides for nearly four hours on Tuesday, the City Council Budget Committee on Tuesday voted to give Mayor Lori Lightfoot greater power over city spending and contracts during the COVID-19 crisis.
The 23-10 vote by the Budget Committee came only after the mayor’s office agreed to scale back the ordinance, and after Tuesday’s virtual meeting was delayed for an hour so the mayor rally support.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Illinois: 1,182 New Coronavirus Cases, 5 More Deaths; Lowest One-Day Death Toll Since September
The measure would give Chief Procurement Officer Shannon Andrews power to enter into contracts of up to $1 million for coronavirus-related needs without requiring City Council approval. Budget Director Susie Park would be empowered to move money within the city budget to pay for COVID-19 expenses without seeking authorization from the City Council. Both Andrews and Park must provide weekly reports on their actions to the Budget Committee.
Park said the city already has committed to $65 million in spending on virus response efforts, and estimated the city will spend $150 million through the end of June. She said most of that will be reimbursed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the city should be able to cover any remaining costs with the share it is expecting from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The mayor’s original proposal for greater spending authority would not have included any spending limits on city contracts for the COVID-19 response, and would have waived required economic disclosure statements from vendors.
Facing opposition from aldermen, the mayor agreed to the $1 million ceiling on contracts that don’t require City Council approval, and to give vendors 60 days to submit economic disclosure statements.
In another concession to aldermen, the mayor agreed to have all of the emergency contracting and budget powers sunset by June 30. If the Chicago Department of Public Health were to determine before then that the COVID-19 threat has subsided enough to repeal the ordinance, the emergency powers would go away sooner.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said it was important for aldermen to give the mayor authority to act quickly to purchase the supplies needed to fight COVID-19 without having to wait for the City Council to vote, and risk prices going up.
“I believe it’s very important that we give our mayor an ability to operate quickly and efficiently in providing resources to the residents of this great city,” he said.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said the mayor’s original proposal was a “major overreach,” but he praised Lightfoot for listening to aldermen’s concerns to come up with a more palatable, if imperfect version of the ordinance.READ MORE: Park District Spring Program Sign Up Starts Monday
“After the council raised what I thought were legitimate concerns about the broad scope of the original proposal, the mayor took a closer look at the document, and arrived at the same conclusion that many of us did that it was a step too far,” he said. “I think the mayor was wise to scale back the original proposal, and to remove many of the provisions that would have put the City Council squarely in the trunk of the car as the administration sought to navigate what will be a very difficult path in this pandemic.”
But the changes the mayor agreed to were not enough to appease many members of the committee, including Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who said the council is essentially handing the mayor “a blank check.”
“I’m not seeing guarantees around ensuring that money from the CARES Act is going to go to the West Side, the South Side, is going to go to housing. So I have a major issue with that,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “That is very disconcerting, and I don’t understand why we simply just can’t do our job as a City Council and provide that oversight in ongoing collaboration.”
Ramirez-Rosa and other aldermen said they are willing to hold weekly City Council meetings by video conference, if necessary, to maintain their oversight of city contracts during the pandemic.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said he doesn’t understand why aldermen would be willing to surrender their legislative authority when they can “meet at the drop of a hat.”
“Quite a few of us have stated that we’re willing to meet every week if we need to, because we’re all home saving lives, in order to do what’s necessary to stop the spread, and I don’t see why we could not meet on a weekly basis,” Beale said. “If we continue to give up our vote, and not get something that’s going to help our community, and help right the wrongs that hare historically hurting our city, at some point we have to change this.”
Budget Committee Chairwoman Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said she’s considering the creation of a working group of aldermen to coordinate with the mayor’s office on COVID-19 response efforts, and allow them to voice their concerns about how money is being spent.
During a conference call with reporters, Lightfoot shrugged off the criticism from many aldermen, saying it’s part of their job to push back.
“It’s standard fare back and forth,” she said.MORE NEWS: Chicago Police Seeking To Identify People Involved In Last Summer's Clash With Officers At Columbus Statue In Grant Park
The ordinance now goes to the full City Council for a vote on Wednesday.