Chicago City Council. (Victor Hilitski/Illinois Answers)

Twice in the past week, Chicago voters have seen their democratically-elected government abruptly adjourned or recessed without approval from the body. 

A chaotic special session called by a group of five alderpersons on Thursday, Nov. 2 was abruptly declared adjourned by president pro tempore Samantha Nugent (39th Ward), chairing the meeting in Mayor Johnson’s absence. No motion to adjourn was made, and no vote was taken, but the lights and microphones in the chamber were shut off. 

This week, on Tuesday Nov. 7, the council’s Committee on Committees and Rules was recessed until Thursday by the declaration of committee chair Michelle Harris, who did not call for a vote. Mics were again shut off, and after a lengthy delay the chamber shifted to a scheduled meeting of City Council. 

The council’s rules are clear, as are the Robert’s Rules of Order on which they are based: adjournment (the official ending of a meeting) and recess (the pause of the meeting until continuation at a later time) are motions that must be made by a member and affirmed by a majority vote. Absent that vote, the meeting cannot be concluded or postponed. This ensures that all members have their time to speak, at least until a majority of the body is willing to go on the record as ending discussion. 

“These are really basic, fundamental, parliamentary tenets,” stated Bryan Zarou, the Better Government Association’s Policy Director. “There’s a democratic process to running a meeting, and ‘turn off the lights and mics’ is not a part of that process.”

Neither of the improperly-concluded meetings were overseen by Mayor Brandon Johnson, but they were chaired by members of his hand-picked leadership team. “This is legislative leadership that seems to feel comfortable ending debate without affirmative support of the elected body,” said Zarou. “That’s very worrying for the public – these are their elected representatives who have been repeatedly cut off.”

The Better Government Association, which for 100 years has served as a public, non-partisan watchdog organization, strongly condemns the practice of ending public meetings without the required motion and vote, whether to adjourn or to recess, and calls on Mayor Johnson and his leadership team to respect City Council’s rules and role as a public, deliberative body.