The city of Champaign assured people Friday it’s not banning gun or alcohol sales or seizing property after several conservative media outlets highlighted the mayor’s ability to take those actions as part of an emergency declared to deal with COVID-19.
Websites including the Washington Examiner ran stories about the emergency declaration after gun-rights groups highlighted Mayor Deborah Frank Feinen’s power to ban firearms sales under the measures and local TV station WAND ran a story about the mayor’s declaration and a city ordinance putting an emergency info effect. No coronavirus cases had been diagnosed in the city as of Friday, a fact noted in some of the articles.
The mayor’s powers already were in the city’s municipal code, and are triggered by an emergency declaration, according to the ordinance passed Friday and statements from city officials.
“Please call City Council members and ask them not to grant the mayor the power to suspend your Second Amendment rights when they’re needed most during an emergency,” the National Rifle Association’s lbboying arm said in a post before the emergency ordinance was passed unanimously by the city council.
The measures in the ordinance passed Friday mostly deal with changes in the everyday workings of city government, like conducting meetings via teleconferencing, closing city buildings, revoking permits for large gatherings and making emergency purchases.
The part of the city code that went into effect with the emergency declaration contains the extraordinary powers, including giving the mayor the ability to set a curfew, close liquor stores, ban the sale of gasoline in containers and stop gun sales.
At the meeting where an ordinance following up on the mayor’s emergency declaration was passed, the Champaign city attorney said there’s no reason to believe those emergency powers will be used.
“Again, there’s nothing that compels the exercise of any of these powers and they’re extensive, there’s no doubt about it--you look at these and you say, ‘Holy cow! The mayor can confiscate property! Hopefully, that’s never going to be required,” said Fred Stavins, the Champaign city attorney, according to a video of the meeting.
“All these are short term, short term,” and would require city council approval at the city’s next council meeting, Stavins said. They “parrot” the state emergency act and are similar to powers that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has after the state’s disaster declaration this week.
“You don’t have to wait for the train to run over you before you get out of the way,” Stavins said.
After some of the articles about the emergency powers came out, the city released a statement saying that none of the more drastic powers were being used.
“This statement is in response to several false claims circulating online,” the statement states. “To be clear, there is currently no firearm ban and no intent to seize property or close businesses. Additionally, there are no restrictions on the sale of alcohol or gas or the ability to enter or leave Champaign."