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Monday’s meetings, in many ways, felt like standard local government in action. Council approved measures for sidewalk and curb replacement, sewer upgrades, alley paving, public art, parking provisions, and union contracts. The mundane business masked, to an extent, the melancholy that attached to the last full meeting of five of the sitting aldermen and the mayor, because new aldermen and Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl will be sworn in at the May 11 meeting. Add in the controversial $4.1 million tax giveaway to Carroll Properties (see page 1), and the atmosphere combined accomplishment, nostalgia, resignation, some bitterness and disappointment to form an unusual cocktail.
The Administration and Public Works Committee began the night with a thick agenda, but moved rather quickly through most of it. The City’s bills once again contained costs for boarding up abandoned buildings, evidence that economic recovery remains elusive.
City business, neither controversial nor particularly exciting, began with repair and construction contracts, then continued with the approval of bids for sidewalk and curb replacement, sewer rehabilitation, street resurfacing, water treatment sludge disposal, new City vehicles, and new police cars. Alley paving requires the City to pass ordinances, and those came next, along with an ordinance adding a new stop sign. Public art projects and parking on the golf course for Northwestern University football games rounded out the official business.
Two controversial reports followed: one concerning possible sites for the relocation of the City’s salt dome (the current location, modified, or several spots in and around James Park appear most likely) and another concerning the possible outsourcing of garbage pickup by the City’s sanitation department. Both concepts are in their infancies, however. The RoundTable will follow these issues as they develop.
Administration and Public Works ran late, but it could afford to do so, knowing the Planning and Development agenda was so light. Two applications for sidewalk cafes – at Cozy Noodle on Davis and Bennison’s Bakery on Davis – quickly passed. Alderman Cheryl Wollin, First Ward, encouraged the City to enforce the requirement that at least 6 feet of sidewalk remain available for pedestrians as constituents have complained that strollers and the elderly using walkers have at times had difficulty negotiating their way past sidewalk cafes, but otherwise no debate took place.
The only remaining agenda item authorized the City to apply for $3 million in Neighborhood Stabilization funds, a federal program designed to ease the burden that foreclosed and vacant properties place on a neighborhood. Some aldermen cautioned that they did not want the City to purchase the properties and “become a landlord.” That argument, however, may come another day, if the City secures the funds. The resolution authorizing the City to seek funds passed without opposition.
At Council, most items sailed through on the consent agenda. Of note: The City has completed negotiations with the firefighters’ union and AFSCME, the American Association of State, County and Municipal Employees. The two contracts will put the City about $175,000 over payroll budget, said Assistant City Manager Martin Lyons. “I have outlined for City Council a way to get the additional money to fund the contracts,” he added. The City has a $200,000 contingency fund, but Mr. Lyons indicated he would rather not spend the bulk of it this early in the fiscal year if other funding options can be found.
After the Carroll Properties debate, in which several alderman appeared resigned and disappointed, the call of the wards began the good-byes and nostalgia that will continue next session as the Council bids farewell to aldermen Cheryl Wollin, Steve Bernstein, Edmund Moran and Anjana Hansen, and of course to Mayor Lorraine Morton. On May 11, good-byes will continue but will be matched by hellos to new aldermen Judy Fiske, Donald Wilson, Mark Tendam, Jane Grover and Coleen Burrus, and of course Mayor Tisdahl.