The public portion of every Evanston City Council meeting ends with the Call of the Wards (COW), when each alderman announces ward meetings, praises recent events such as Rotary tree plantings, and on occasion makes a referral to City staff or a standing Council committee. Generally, COW passes pleasantly and the meeting either ends or Council graduates into executive session and disappears from public view.
Not so on April 30. A request by Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, for a list and map of restricted parking zones within the City turned into what Mayor Stephen Hagerty called a “heated discussion,” and a partially successful effort by at least two aldermen to stymie or at least limit the request for information.
“I’d like to make a referral to the Administration and Public Works Committee. I’d like to request [that] the Parking Division Manager [Jill Velan] provide a list, a map, of all restricted parking zones including the capacity of the zone, the number of permits issued, and the type of restriction. I’d like to have a discussion of a protocol where we review these restrictions on a periodic basis,” said Ald. Suffredin.
Immediately, several aldermen began talking over each other in protest. Aldermen Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Don Wilson, 4th Ward. led the charge.
“All I’m asking for right now is the information,” continued Ald. Suffredin, “that should be here [in the Civic Center]. I am not asking for any outside information. It should all be here in this building right now.”
“‘The capacity of the zone,’” quoted back Ald. Wilson. “You could do a study” to determine parking capacity.
Ald. Suffredin insisted he was not looking for studies or consultants, but the capacity used by the City “when [each restricted zone] was established.”
“The streets change every year,” said Ald. Wilson.
“Are they shorter or longer?” asked Ald. Suffredin.
“If you live in a permit C area,” said Ald. Wynne, referring to a resident-restricted parking zone covering a large chunk of her Third Ward, “the City doesn’t go out and count all the parking spaces on the street. … You can have no cars, you can have five cars.” The City doesn’t say how many vehicles a resident can register, she said.
Ald. Suffredin said he was only looking for the number of “actual permits issued” in each restricted zone, along with each zone’s rated parking capacity.
“You kind of mixed up some concepts here,” said Ald. Wilson. “So you want just the ones where we’re issuing residents-only permits. That’s really different” from all restricted zones, such as two hours or Evanston residents only between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. near train stations.
“I am not asking for any action,” said Ald. Suffredin. “I am just asking for the information.” It was a statement he repeated several times.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said restricted zones “were created by ordinance and can be amended by ordinance.” She said recently Ms. Velan has been checking the addresses of applicants for Zone A decals. There are “instances in my ward where people who used to get permits were not allowed. ... I just want to make sure the information that goes out is correct.”
“I’m always concerned about the amount of work we are placing on our City staff,” said Mayor Hagerty. With budgeting and other matters, he asked how long it would take to gather the requested information.
“I always ask, ‘What problem are we trying to solve?’” said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, suggesting that Ald. Suffredin should meet with staff to narrow and focus his request.
“I’m happy to limit this to the Sixth Ward,” said Ald. Suffredin, “but I think it’s a City-wide issue.” Restricted-zone “permits for this year have been issued.” The information should be in a collection of spreadsheets already. “Here are our permits for this zone, this zone and this zone. It’s not creating work. The spreadsheets exist. I just want them gathered into one place so we can have a discussion. That’s all.”
“Is it a fair assumption you are focusing on a specific area of your ward?” asked Ald. Braithwaite. Recently, the restricted-parking area on Hurd Avenue just south of Central Street has been the focus of attention, as neighbors want to retain the restriction benefiting about a dozen homes while businesses along Central Street would like to see the restrictions relaxed.
“I would like an examination of parking in a particular area of my ward but I also think we should look at the entire City, especially if it’s information that already exists. ...” said Ald. Suffredin.
“I get the impression that you’re trying to address one or two blocks in your ward,” said Ald. Wilson. “But I know when people hear about this,” that an alderman is “requesting information on all restricted parking – it’s going to make everybody in the entire City who lives in one of these districts” fear “Oh, no, they’re going to undo my parking.”
“I’m not looking to undo anything,” repeated Ald. Suffredin. “I’m just looking for all the information.”
“You say you’re looking for all the information but it’s not clear to me what you are actually looking for,” said Ald. Wilson.
Ald. Suffredin said he was only looking for “areas where Evanston residents cannot park” because of resident-only restrictions.
“So why don’t you just get the map and look at it,” asked Ald. Wilson.
“There isn’t one,” said Ald. Suffredin. There is no map laying out the City’s restricted-parking areas. He again volunteered to limit the request to his ward, but added, “I think we should look at it as a City, but if you want me to take my ward [only] I’m happy to do that [but] I think it’s a City-wide issue. Parking is a citywide issue not just ward by ward.”
“You said you” want the information so Council can “have a discussion,” said Ald. Wilson, and revisit restricted zones on a regular basis. “OK, you can have that discussion, but that would be a horrifying thing to do. … People would probably move” rather than having “to fight over whether we can park or not every five years.”
“First of all, this should come to Parking and Transportation. Every question you have” has to do with topics covered by the City’s P&T committee, said Ald. Wynne. The Committee, chaired by Ald. Wynne, is scheduled to meet monthly. Every meeting between November 2016 and May 2017 was cancelled, nor did the committee meet between November 2017 and February 2018.
Number two,” Ald. Wynne added, “I completely agree with Ald. Wilson and Ald. Braithwaite. Even last week, despite the fact that you had written to your constituents and told them there would be no action, we had 10 or 15 people at Transportation and Parking because they are – they want to be there....
“As I said, I live in zone C, so, as I said, it’s open parking for everybody who wants to come on one side of the street, and on the other side of the street it’s called residential two-hour exemption, so people with a C sticker can park all day [but] others have a two-hour limit... [and] there’s never a restriction on how many stickers I can get. It wasn’t governed by the size of the street.”
“Here’s what I’m saying,” began Ald. Suffredin.
“If you just want the number of stickers,” interrupted Ald. Wynne, “I urge you to just look at the Sixth Ward.”
“I’m happy to do an analysis of the Sixth Ward,” said Ald. Suffredin.
Leave the Fourth Ward out of it, said Ald. Wilson.
Alderman Suffredin, I've lived at my address for 30 years. I needed to get a residential sticker to park on my side of the street the day I moved in,” said Ald. Wynne
“That's a good story,” said Ald. Suffredin. “But what does it have to do with what I am talking about?”
“I don't support [the referral],” said Ald. Wynne.
“Of course you don't,” said Ald. Suffredin, “You've been in charge of Transportation and Parking for ten years.”
“I don't support this because it's a waste of staff time,” replied Ald. Wynne.
“I do think it’s reasonable to ask the parking manager a question about parking. That's not a waste of staff time. That's exactly what staff is there to do. Right? I'm not demanding it tomorrow at five o'clock. I will have a conversation with Jill [Velan]. I could do a FOIA. I could go that way. But that's not the way we s old run this government.”
The back and forth continued. Ald. Suffredin continued to ask for a list of restricted parking zones and the criteria used when those zones were established, and Ald. Wynne and Wilson continued to fight his request. Eventually, Ald. Wilson made a motion, calling for a Council vote on whether or not to permit Ald. Suffredin's referral.
“Here's the thing,” said Mayor Hagerty. “Generally speaking, if an alderman puts something forward there's not an objection. Obviously, tonight there's been a heated discussion at call of the wards.” He then appeared to consider Ald. Suffredin's referral a motion, and asked for a second. Aldermen Cicely Fleming, 9th ward, and Robin Rue Simmons, 5th ward,both immediately seconded.
“I'm puzzled that we're having a huge debate about an aldermanic motion. I feel like other aldermen make motions I don't necessarily agree with or feel like are beneficial, but I don't say, particularly from the dais, don't make that motion,” said Ald. Fleming. “We are not to start voting on whether or not an elected official can make a request for information.” Aldermen should not hinder the work of other aldermen because they decide the request unworthy, she said.
“All the districts are included in the City Code ad f you go to them you cab click on the ordinance that created” the restricted parking zones,” said Ald. Fiske.
“Well then City staff could go there and pull them out” and it will not take much staff time said Ald. Fleming. Aldermen are part time, City Staff full time, she said.
In the end, Ald. Suffredin agreed to limit his request to the Sixth Ward. Ald. Fleming joined his request, and asked for information on restricted parking districts in the Ninth Ward.