Champaign City Council gives mayor power to impose curfew, seize private property

Champaign City Council gives mayor power to impose curfew, seize private property

Water rationing and forced business closures were among a litany of emergency powers the city council granted Champaign’s mayor and city manager in response to the global health crisis.

Champaign city leaders will have a new range of executive power in response to a coronavirus outbreak that has seen an escalating number of cases in Illinois and across the globe.

On March 13, Champaign City Council unanimously approved an ordinance giving the mayor and city manager a broad range of new temporary emergency powers, including the authority to:

  • Impose a curfew
  • Bar residents from public buildings
  • Close all liquor stores
  • “Require closing of business establishments”
  • Prohibit the sale of firearms and ammunition
  • “Order City employees or agents, on behalf of the City, to take possession of any real or personal property of any person, or to acquire full title or such lesser interest as may be necessary to deal with a disaster or emergency”
  • Ration or shut off public utilities, such as water and power

Responding to swift backlash and some false rumors provoked by the extensive reach of the ordinance, the city of Champaign tweeted a statement denying any intent to use many of the new powers, which expire after 28 days.

Springfield-based political blog Capitol Fax pointed out the language of the ordinance was lifted mostly verbatim from a previous ordinance passed in 2006, and is based on a state law allowing municipalities to give mayors “extraordinary power and authority to exercise, by executive order, during a state of emergency.”

City Attorney Fred Stavins acknowledged the wide scope of the ordinance in an interview with the News-Gazette, but said it’s too early to determine which powers the city may invoke, outside of precautionary personnel and public safety matters.

“The ordinance contemplates a wide range of emergency situations. Whether any of these steps will be necessary … is not completely known at this time,” he told the News-Gazette.

“The mayor can confiscate property. Hopefully, that’s never going to be required,” Stavins said. “But I did just read in California where there was a necessity to take over a hotel … to isolate people during a quarantine. Now this is a pretty extreme case, but it’s possible, and it may be required to be done in a more immediate fashion.”

Illinois has so far confirmed 46 cases of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has caused a global outbreak of respiratory illness, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Most of those cases have involved residents of Chicago and Cook County.

There are 132,758 known cases globally with just under 5,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tallied 1,629 cases and 41 deaths. There are currently no vaccines or drugs approved to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Champaign is home to the University of Illinois, which on March 11 canceled in-person classes at both its Champaign-Urbana and Chicago campuses, along with DePaul and Northwestern universities.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker two days later issued an executive order closing all Illinois K-12 schools until March 29 in response to COVID-19 concerns, the same day President Donald Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency.

Champaign is Illinois’ 10th-largest city, with a population of just over 88,000.

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