The ongoing feud between Assessor Sharon Strobeck Eckersall and outgoing Ald. Steven J. Bernstein, 4th Ward, has continued even after the April 7 election in which successors for both were chosen. At the April 14 City Council meeting, Ms. Eckersall spoke, Ald. Bernstein reacted, and the audience in the Council Chamber was left to wonder where this ongoing dispute might end.
The April 7 election resulted in Ms. Eckersall’s resounding defeat by Bonnie Wilson, former president of the Democratic Party of Evanston, unofficially 72 percent to 28 percent. Ald. Bernstein did not seek re-election; his last meeting will be May 11, 2009. Pursuant to Illinois law, however, the Township Assessor’s term coincides with the county tax year and expires Dec. 31, 2009. Though defeated at the polls, Ms. Eckersall will remain in office another eight months.
Apparently Ms. Eckersall’s term does not end soon enough for Ald. Bernstein. On April 8, the day after the election, Ald. Bernstein called the Evanston Police to report that Ms. Eckersall was removing files from the Assessor’s office. According to Darnell Jefferson, Township Deputy Assistant who worked at the Assessor’s office that day, three police squad cars arrived, along with Ms. Wilson.
“It was ridiculous, embarrassing and unnecessary,” said Mr. Jefferson. The police instructed Ms. Eckersall to wait with them until Mr. Bernstein arrived. He never did. The authorities found nothing improper and no arrests were made.
Ald. Bernstein said he received a call on April 8 informing him that records were being removed. When asked who placed the call, he responded, “I’m not going to play that game. I received an anonymous call that records were being removed,” and called the police. He added, “There are records in that office that cannot be replaced.”
Ms. Eckersall told the RoundTable that she had destroyed no records and that there are backup records for all documents in the office.
During the public comment portion of the April 14 meeting, Ms. Eckersall lamented what she described as “dirty politics” and indicated that she felt glad to be leaving office.
She called the Council a “heartless group,” saying that when her son died, “in my home, last August,” not a single Council member called or even sent a card. Mayor Lorraine Morton and Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, attended the funeral. Mr. Jefferson confirmed Ms. Eckersall’s comment.
Later, Ald. Bernstein continued his pursuit by refusing to authorize the payment of the Assessor’s office supply bill until he can examine it item by item.
The bill totals $744.32 ($270.57 for printer cartridges, $182.99 for a printer imaging drum, $142.96 for toner supplies and paper products, $84 for stamps, $14.92 for sharpies, and the remainder for miscellaneous supplies and a late fee because the bill had not been timely authorized by Council and paid.
During the call of the wards on April 14, Ald. Bernstein again went on the attack. “I am concerned about prior and future actions,” he said. He informed Council that he had been in contact with State Representative Julie Hamos about getting Ms. Eckersall removed before the expiration of her term. Mayor Morton, moments later, asked Interim City Manager Rolanda Russell to instruct the legal department to research whether Ms. Eckersall could be replaced earlier. Because the Assessor’s term is established by Illinois law, on the surface there appears to be no way other than impeachment or resignation.
Ms. Eckersall has no plans to leave prior to Dec. 31. “I will continue to conduct business in the same professional way that we have been,” she said. “I will be re-submitting a budget.”
Asked about Ald. Bernstein’s concerns, she added, “I have not and will not destroy any Township documents except according to official policy” as told to her by Interim First Assistant Corporation Counsel Elke Tober-Purze.