As response efforts ramp up to reduce and slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, we understand public officials, and especially mayors and village presidents, have many questions about what powers and authorities they have to implement emergency measures in their communities.

To help answer these questions, we put together the following primer on the authority of the mayor/president during emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic. It is important to note that not all of the statutes listed below apply directly to the authority of the mayor/president in particular, but they all play a role in the web of regulations addressing local emergency response. Additionally, each municipality’s local code, or, if applicable, local municipal charter, might have provisions applicable to emergency procurement and executive orders – please reach out to us if you would like assistance interpreting your code or understanding the interplay between your code and the State statutes discussed below.

  • General Powers of the Mayor/President in the Illinois Municipal Code
    •  Sec. 3.1-35-5 provides that mayors and presidents shall perform all the duties prescribed by law, including ordinances, and shall take care that laws and ordinances are faithfully executed.
    • Sec. 3.1-35-15 authorizes mayors and presidents to release any person imprisoned for violation of a municipal ordinance.
    • Sec. 3.1-35-20 provides that mayors and presidents may at all times examine and inspect the books, records, and papers of any agent, employee, or officer of the municipality.
    • Section 3.1-35-25 authorizes mayors and presidents to call out the militia to aid in suppressing riots and other disorderly conduct or to aid in carrying into effect any law or ordinance. This authority is subject to the Governor’s authority acting as commander-in- chief of the militia.
  • Emergency Powers Authorized by Statute 
    • Section 11-1-6 of the Illinois Municipal Code provides that the corporate authorities of any municipality may enact an ordinance granting the mayor or president the “extraordinary authority and power” to exercise, by executive order, the “powers of the corporate authorities reasonably necessary to respond to an emergency.” The mayor or president may only exercise such powers after they sign a declaration of a state of emergency. The local ordinance must establish the nature and extent of the extraordinary authority and the standards by which the mayor or president determines an emergency exists.
    • Section 11 of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act (“EMA Act”) authorizes the “principal executive officer of a political subdivision” (the mayor or president of a municipality) to declare a local disaster, which activates the community’s emergency operations plan and authorizes furnishing of aid and assistance under that plan. The local disaster declaration may not be issued or renewed for a period longer than seven days except with the consent of the corporate authorities. The authority to issue a local disaster declaration appears specific to those municipalities that maintain an emergency operations plan.
    • Practical Applications: 
      • You should review your local code to determine whether your municipality has previously adopted an ordinance pursuant to Section 11-1-6 . Note that the ordinance may impose different standards for what constitutes an emergency sufficient to issue a “declaration of a state of emergency” from the standards applicable to the issuance of a “local disaster declaration” under Section 11 of the EMA Act.
      • The mayor/president may unilaterally issue a local disaster declaration, activating the local emergency operations plan, relaxing procurement rules and regulations (see below for more details), and allowing the provision of aid. However, once the local disaster declaration is issued, the EMA Act does not grant the mayor/president any additional emergency powers or authority.
      • On the other hand, an ordinance enacted pursuant to Section 11-1-6 , may grant the mayor/president significant powers to issue a wide spectrum of executive orders. In the context of the coronavirus epidemic, those executive orders may include the cancellation of public meetings gatherings and other municipal events and services, the procurement of necessary supplies and services, the closure of certain businesses, and/or the imposition of curfews.
      • Note that declarations made pursuant to these statutes are temporary and will expire if not renewed.
  • Curfew Authority 
    • Section 11-1-5 of the Illinois Municipal Code authorizes the corporate authorities of each municipality to declare a curfew throughout all or any part of the municipality and establish conditions and restrictions related to the curfew. o Sec. 11-20-5 of the Illinois Municipal Code states as follows: “The corporate authorities of each municipality may do all acts and make all regulations which may be necessary or expedient for the promotion of health or the suppression of diseases.”
    • Practical Applications: The two grants of power listed above, particularly when (but not necessarily) combined with home rule authority, provide broad authority for the corporate authorities (the city council or village board) to enact curfew regulations that function as social distancing measures to address the spread of coronavirus. The mayor/president may be able to impose curfews independently as part of the emergency powers exercised under Section 11-1-6 of the Illinois Municipal Code.
  • Quarantine Authority 
    • Section 2 of the Department of Public Health Act provides that the State Department of Public Health (“IDPH”) is the “supreme authority” in matters of quarantine and isolation and may declare, enforce, modify or relax quarantine or isolation. IDPH must either obtain consent of the person being quarantined or of the owner of the quarantine location, or obtain a court order approving the quarantine order. In emergency circumstances, IDPH may issue and enforce a quarantine order against a person’s will but must obtain a court order approving such order within 48 hours, or if the court system is unavailable, as soon as reasonably possible.
    • Section 7-4-1 of the Illinois Municipal Code authorizes municipalities to enforce health and quarantine ordinances and regulations within their jurisdictions and within one-half mile of their corporate limits.
    • Section 11-20-5 of the Illinois Municipal Code authorizes municipalities to “do all acts and make all regulations which may be necessary or expedient for the promotion of public health or the suppression of diseases.”
    • Practical Applications: 
      • While the State has the ultimate authority over quarantine and isolation, municipalities have the authority to enforce quarantine and isolation orders.
      • Additionally, absent quarantine and isolation orders issued by the State or the local health department, municipalities likely have the power to quarantine pursuant to Section 11-20-5 of the Illinois Municipal Code, their police powers and, if applicable, their home rule powers. Mayors may have the authority to issue such orders upon the issuance of a declaration of a state of emergency pursuant to Section 11-1-6 if such orders are authorized by the local enabling ordinance. However, it would be prudent to observe the same quarantine requirements and procedures imposed by the Illinois Department of Public Health Act.
      • As noted above, curfew authority may be implemented locally to achieve some or all of the same objectives as an official quarantine without specific state authorization. Likewise, the broad authority of Section 11-20-5 of the Municipal Code authorizes a wide variety of municipal actions that allow each municipality the ability to tailor local responses to local circumstances related to public health emergencies such as the COVID – 19 coronavirus.
  • Appropriations/Procurement 
    • Section 8-1-6 of the Illinois Municipal Code provides that municipalities may not spend more than the amount appropriated in the annual appropriations ordinance, but provides an exception for emergencies. The corporate authorities, by a two-thirds vote, may approve additional appropriations necessary for any emergency happening after and unforeseen at the time of making the annual appropriations. This specific statute expressly contemplates a condition requiring immediate action required to suppress or prevent the spread of disease.
    • Section 10 of the EMA Act authorizes political subdivisions carrying out the provisions of the EMA Act to, among other things, enter into contracts, incur obligations, appropriate public funds for the purpose of addressing emergencies, protecting life and property, and providing emergency assistance without following the procedures and formalities normally required by law, except for Constitutional requirements, pertaining to the performance of public works, entering into contracts, or making appropriations.
    • Many municipal codes or purchasing policies authorize emergency expenditures under certain circumstances.
    • Practical Applications: 
      • The relaxed purchasing, expenditure, and appropriation procedures provided by these statutes and the municipality’s own policies and codes apply only to purchases made in order to address the emergency. Municipalities should be careful to follow procurement and appropriation rules for expenditures made to address the emergency when feasible and for all other non-essential purchases and contracts.
      • A local disaster declaration issued by the mayor pursuant to the EMA Act affords the most procurement flexibility as it suspends ordinarily required procedures and regulations regarding contracting, expenditures, and appropriations.
      • Presumably, and if permitted by the enabling ordinance, a mayor may issue a declaration of emergency pursuant to Section 11-1-6 of the Illinois Municipal Code and issue one or more executive orders suspending the municipality’s purchasing procedures and policies in addition to authorizing specific purchases unilaterally.
      • If a local disaster declaration has not been issued, but an emergency exists, Section 8-1-6 authorizes additional appropriations and the award of contracts without following competitive bidding procedures subject to certain restrictions. A municipality’s purchasing procedures or policies may also offer relaxed rules for purchases made to address an emergency.

As the situation continues to develop rapidly, please call any of our attorneys to discuss contemplated emergency measures so that we can help ensure the proper authority and procedures are employed.