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Lessons Learned

Editor:

Some events in life tend to put others in their proper perspective.  As stunned and disappointed as I was on April 7 by the Apathetic Republic of Evanston’s low turnout for the City’s open mayoral race, this feeling drifted away later in the week as I learned the likely timing of my son’s deployment to Afghanistan.

What a rollercoaster week it was.  I never fathomed that Evanston voters this year, given a four-way mayor’s race for an open seat and competitive races in six of nine wards, would choose to take Election Day off and stay home.  Only 22 percent of registered voters bothered to exercise their franchise, compared to 82 percent just last November in the federal election.  A very disappointing effort by our people, who apparently aren’t as interested in change and politics as some had hoped.

As stunned and numb as I was by the voter inertia, it all seemed to slide away later in the week when I talked with my son, Cooper, 18, who is training with a Marine unit at Camp Pendleton.  He informed me that he likely won’t be sent to Afghanistan for a year.  Perhaps by then the situation there will have changed, or maybe President Obama will have different priorities.

While I spent the last six months going door to door in Evanston, Cooper got his tank license, passed a number of sharpshooter, radio and map-reading tests. and is now learning how to control new, reinforced MRAP Humvees.  Cooper’s upbeat determination had brought me back into a reality that extends well beyond Evanston politics.

I visited Cooper this past week at Camp Pendleton and found him to be a solid, focused, committed and loving young man.  Pendleton wasn’t what I expected.  Driving Interstate 5 north from San Diego there’s a ramp off the freeway that literally takes motorists on to the huge camp.  Growing up in the Midwest, when I think “camp” I envision a big brown wooden sign welcoming folks and many tall green trees.  Camp Pendleton is a dusty desert.  I picked Cooper up on a Friday late afternoon.  The place was mostly cleared out for the weekend.  There was Cooper, amid the dusty haze, standing alone off a lonely road, carrying his usual packed Marine-issued knapsack.  He looked tan, fit and drained.

So we took him off base to nearby Carlsbad in the hills 10 miles away, to a Sheraton Resort overlooking – ironically – Lego Land.  As we strolled around the property listening to the distant screams of kids and their parents frolicking on the Leog Land rollercoaster, my mind was fixed on the massive tanks Cooper had showed us at Pendleton just moments before.  Two worlds – one American fantasy and one brutal reality – just miles apart.  And few of us can understand both.

Cooper will soon spend weeks at 29 Palms, a God-forsaken place in California‘s Mohave Desert that the Army deemed uninhabitable.  The Marines now use 29 Palms for training.  Cooper will be training to be a driver of one of the new MRAP Humvee’s, which has a V-shaped underside to deflect the impact of explosions and protect the people inside.

Cooper is looking forward to his service and defending his country, as he talks about wanting to go to college in three years, when his commitment is complete.  Not a day will go by between now and then when I won’t have Cooper’s essence playing like a movie in the screen of my consciousness.  My plan will be to stay busy, do good work and serve the public. Just not through Evanston‘s City government.

My plan will be to offer my consulting services pro bono to the Evanston Community Development Corporation as a green energy/jobs consultant, and to try to mentor young people at Evanston‘s Rice Child & Family Center.  If I can help create jobs and business on Evanston‘s west side and help its parentless and abused youth, I will have accomplished two of the main purposes of my mayoral campaign.

–Barnaby Dinges,

Former Mayoral Candidate

 

Buy Local at Evanston Farmers’ Market

Editor:

The First Lady’s organic vegetable garden at the White House reflects America‘s growing preference for organic and locally grown food. Evanston residents have been literally reaping the benefits of this “trend” for over 30 years. This year is no exception. The Evanston Farmers’ market opens May 16 and runs every Saturday until Nov. 7.

“Local” produce, in accord with an often-used definition, must come from distances less than a day’s drive away. The Evanston Farmers’ Market is certainly local, with farmers from Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan making up the majority of sellers. About 60% of the produce sold is organic, says Alisa Dean, Operations Manager for the Evanston Farmers’ Market.

Early in the season the Market boasts abundant fresh herbs, leafy greens, mushrooms and flowers, says Ms. Dean, with strawberries and tomatoes soon to follow. The fall brings a wonderful assortment of root vegetables, squash and apples. In addition to fruits and vegetables, customers can purchase a variety of flowers, cheeses, meats and bakery items. Local artists also sell their work through the “Home Grown Artists” program – a tradition the City Council voted to make a permanent part of the Evanston Farmers’ Market in 2008.

Cooking demonstrations and tastings by the Evanston culinary center Now

We’re Cookin’ were new to the Market last year, and will be back again this year on ten Saturdays. Now We’re Cookin’ uses produce fresh from the market in their demonstrations, and will take orders for their cookbook on using fresh produce, says owner Nell Funk. Their final event of the season, on Oct. 31, will be a hands-on cooking demonstration for kids and families, held in collaboration with Purple Asparagus.

When shopping at the Farmers’ Market, customers may bring their own bags or buy sturdy canvas bags sold at the market. Coupons for seniors are available through the Commission on Aging during normal business hours in room G600 of the Evanston Civic Center,

2100 Ridge Ave.

The Farmers’ Market is a very popular attraction, bringing over a thousand visitors on an average Saturday. “It’s a very busy market,” says Ms. Dean.

Bring your canvas bag and your appetite for fresh, locally grown food to the intersection of

University Place

and

Oak Avenue

this spring, summer andfall. Hours are For more details, go to www.cityofevanston.org/enjoy/market.

— Emily Updegraff

 

 

Taxis Need a

Better Place

To Stand

Editor:

Over the course of the past three months from January 2009, my husband and I, Evanston residents and property-owners, have noticed a significant increase in commercial traffic, specifically the number of taxis parking on residential streets, as well as the length of time they park. This has ranged from 15 minutes to 5-6 hours in some cases).

I contacted the City’s Parking Services division to inquire about designated parking spaces that would be more appropriate for commercial taxi usage than residential parking streets. The response from the City (both prompt and courteous) was that, according to Ordinance 10-4-14-5(D), “The operator of a taxicab while for hire shall not stand or park such vehicle upon any street at any place other than in a taxicab stand so designated as provided herein. This provision shall not prevent the operator of a taxicab from temporarily stopping in accordance with other stopping or parking regulations at any place for the purpose of and while actually engaged in the expeditious loading or unloading of passengers.”

In addition, Steve O’Sullivan, the License and Measures Inspector for the City, was asked to contact the various taxi companies licensed by the City and express concerns regarding drivers not conforming to City ordinances.

I firmly believe and support the rights of commercial taxi companies and their drivers to perform their duties. What I would like the City to consider is the establishment of some additional restricted commercial parking spaces/taxi stands for these operators in commercially designated zones. It is evident that taxi drivers are seeking other parking areas in the residential districts due to the dearth of currently designated commercial zones closer to the downtown Evanston area. The increase in taxis only compounds the situation.

I urge the City to seek out appropriately zoned locations within Evanston to meet the needs of traveling passengers as well as respect the residential zoning ordinances in effect. A clearly articulated and followed partnership between the City’s commercial and residential interests can only enhance Evanston.

–Sabrina K. Pasztor

 

 

Fire Station Mural

Unmentioned

For John Macsai:

I can’t believe you wrote about Fire Station #5 and didn’t mention the fabulous etched glass mural that has been installed across the upper windows over the bays. It is a fine example of the work of the Evanston Public Art Committee and a great addition to the building and streetscape.

— Gay Riseborough

 

Snow Dollars 

Editor: 

I’m writing to voice concern over what I feel to be unconstitutional ticketing and towing practices by the City of Evanston. I hope the RoundTable will deem this a worthy subject.

Where I live, on west Central, there is signage regarding snow emergencies. This signage states parking isn’t allowed after two inches of snow, from until

 

It provides the phone number of the SNOW LINE which is updated daily to verify snow emergencies. On two occasions this winter, my vehicle was ticketed and towed when snow had not fallen. First I was shocked, then outraged. After attending hearing dates which are adjudicated by a biased, Evanston employee posing as an impartial judge, I beca.m.e a.m.azed and dismayed at the charades taking place at City Hall.

 

I discovered the following about snow emergencies. The City declares an emergency at , based upon the forecast for that evening. The City then notifies police and towing contractors to get their engines ready for a lucrative night of revenue raising,

to begin promptly at . But there are a few problems which violate the due process rights of citizens.

First, in spite of declaring an emergency at , he City waits to update the message until A high-ranking Evanston employee admitted this to me. On both occasions, I phoned at . and heard “No Snow Emergency.” The City requires residents to stay awake until to hear that message and concluded five minutes is reasonable notice for thousands to reach one recording. Or perhaps, this is a conscious practice to mislead and create more offenders and more “snow dollars”. 

Second, and most unbelievable, the City begins towing at , regardless of conditions. Apparently, a forecast of snow, equals fallen snow to the revenue collectors. Regardless of where snow falls, in Evanston or Wisconsin, once the tow truck wheels are in motion, the process cannot be stopped.

 

You can go to sleep in compliance with the signage and phone message and still awake to no snow, a missing car and hundreds of dollars in new debt. 

Third, at my hearing, the hearing officer asked for evidence to support my claim that snow hadn’t fallen. I stated I’d return with evidence and was granted a continuance. On the return, I came prepared with supportive weather data. But the second officer refused to consider it, even after I explained that I was instructed by the first officer to bring it. She said, “I a.m. not interested in your evidence. I find you guilty.”

Fourth, while awaiting my case, I heard over a dozen citizens state they would agree to pay their parking violation, but came to fight towing charges. Each claimed their vehicle had never been towed. The City had written tickets as though a tow did occur and charged for it. The hearing officer looked in the “towing log” and each time admitted, that towing had not actually occurred at their address and dismissed that portion of their tickets.

 

What a surprise!

 

Finally, when I made a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request to the City for a document which would verify their notification practices, (a memo mentioned by that high-ranking official) the request was denied. This memo verified the devious delay of nearly 5.5 hours between the internal and public notice. Then I filed an appeal with the City Manager’s office which was ignored, contrary to policy. No answers to my letters or calls were received.

 

What a civics lesson to witness this pattern of purposeful and dishonest behavior by this administration in the name of collecting revenue.

Clearly the calculation has been made that most citizens will not, or cannot afford time off to fight these false tickets. People simply pay the piper and write it off as a cost of living here. 

 

What I saw in Evanston court made my stomach turn.

There were unemployed, sick and elderly on walkers and canes, one woman even rolling her oxygen tank, all inconvenienced, but appearing at this imitation court, feeling aggravated and abused. But present to fight against what they knew to be unfair and wrong.

The ends do not justify the means. And what’s happening here for many is a steady erosion of trust in their public servants.

 

This is a serious and egregious long term threat to any civilized society.

 

Consequently, I chose to file an appeal in the real court system of Cook County. It cost $125 plus attorney fees to fight a $50 ticket. Not a good money decision, but the right one for sure.

 

Sometimes a small voice can be heard singing before the chorus and just maybe, sometimes, a broken system can be reformed.

 

Call the Evanston City Manager and tell her how you feel.

Sincerely, Barry A. Rustin, Evanston Resident

 

Support Funding Source for Dental Care

Editor:

Thousands of low-income children and adults in Illinois suffer from untreated dental disease.  They can’t eat or sleep properly, can’t do their best at school or work; they can’t smile. They are at risk for other, serious health problems.  All because of a disease that could easily have been prevented and could easily be treated.  We applaud Rep. Lisa Hernandez for introducing legislation that would fund much-needed improvements to Illinois‘ dental care system, dramatically increasing the number of people receiving dental care, through a modest increase in the sales tax on soft drinks.

Under an amendment to HB 388, revenues generated from a 5 percent statewide soft-drink sales tax would fund dental clinics in underserved areas and increase funding for Medicaid dental coverage. Illinois has among the lowest rates in the nation for government-funded dental care. As a result, we face an oral-health-care crisis.  Dental clinics have closed; services have been sharply reduced, all while the need for government-funded dental care has dramatically increased due to the economic downturn and massive job loss. Illinois currently has just one clinic per 8,400 children who rely on government insurance.

On average, each American drinks 53 gallons of soda a year, and the consumption of soft drinks in general has increased 500 percent in the past 50 years. Soft drinks have no nutritional value and pose many oral and overall health risks, including enamel loss and obesity.

By taking advantage of a 50 percent federal match, this increase in sales tax will generate as much as $91 million for oral-health-care programs.

Enough to help millions of children and adults gain access to much needed dental services.

HB 388 will help end a lot of needless suffering among the most vulnerable Illinoisans.   I urge you to tell your legislator to support this bill. The future of healthy smiles depends on it.

–Lauri Frichtl, Executive Director, Illinois Head Start Association 

D65 2009-10 Calendar

Editor:

While it may seem like a simple task, putting together the annual District 65 school calendar is no easy feat.  It takes striking a delicate balance between state laws, union contracts, and the sometimes competing interests of many key stakeholders. 

But after careful consideration of these variables, the 2009-2010 calendar was approved on April 20.

The calendar – which was developed with input from the educators and parents who serve on the D65 Calendar Committee – seeks to maximize uninterrupted learning for students (with 20 full five-day weeks of school compared to only 17 in this year’s calendar) as well as provide quality professional-development time for teachers. And, in response to the ongoing awareness-building and organizing efforts of ParentsWork, it includes the following features that will ensure more scheduling consistency for parents juggling work and caring for school-age children:

* Fewer days off at the beginning of the school year, thanks to permission from the Illinois State Board of Education to hold class on Columbus Day.

* Consolidation of teacher training into  seven half-day “school improvement days” (vs. the current mix of half days and hour-early dismissals) to be held on the first Wednesday of the month.

* A new format for fall conferences that will allow for more evening appointment times to better accommodate parents’ work schedules.

Also, if you have ever wondered what happens on all those early release days, do not miss the presentation materials in the  Board packet on the District’s current and future professional development activities.

  Rhonda Present, Founder and Director of Parents Work 

 

Dumpsters Are Not Always A “Green” Choice

Editor:

This is in response to a letter from Michael Molinaro in your April 15 issue urging the return of neighborhood Dumpster Days.  In my experience, the dumpsters were a very poor choice from an ecological standpoint.  While they have been a quick solution for some, the long term effects of those dumpsters on overly taxed landfills was hardly a “green” approach for our City to endorse. 

I am encouraging our citizens to take advantage of www.freecycle.org, which you can access through www.yahoo.com/egroups to find homes for your unwanted stuff.  Just carefully read the guidelines.

Even small amounts of left-over paint can be used by theater groups painting sets, for example. 

Also, many of my neighbors used the dumpsters for large amounts of landscaping materials, which was in clear violation of their intended use.

The people of Evanston know that we can do a better job managing our excess.

                                        — Fury Gold