Council Bytes for May 26

A very different City Council met on May 26, with newcomers outnumbering incumbents 5-3 (one returning alderman missed the meeting). Council met Tuesday rather than Monday because of the Memorial Day holiday, and it met first in a special meeting prior to committee meetings to officially change Council rules (as reported in the May 27 RoundTable). The entire Council was paperless for the first time, and controversial development issues were decidedly absent. The evening felt almost like a practice meeting, with new aldermen getting their feet wet and everyone getting to know each other.

 

Items were discussed and passed, but they concerned mundane City management matters; personalities were revealed, or at least hinted at; awards were given and received; and the meeting closed with aldermen talking about the possibility of crime’s increasing over the coming summer months.

 

The new Mayor, Elizabeth Tisdahl, spent more time waiting for Council to arrive than in following the agenda for the special meeting that kicked off the evening. A car accident on

Ridge Avenue

shut down a stretch between Greenwood and Church streets, tangling traffic and complicating the commute to the Civic Center for at least one alderman (and this reporter). Once Council was seated, the official passage of new rules agreed to by the Rules Committee was a mere formality, but the special meeting was necessary in order for the rules to take effect before committee meetings began at

 

At the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, the replacement of bulky three-ring binders by rolling computer bags first drew attention as all four members sat before booting machines awaiting the meeting start. The only paper memo was the City’s response to aldermen’s questions regarding the bills. That memo, prepared by City staff and consolidated by Joseph McRae, assistant to the City Manager, seemed to do its job:  For the first time in months, aldermen did not ask a single question about the bills at the A&PW Committee meeting.

 

Chairperson Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, guided the new committee members through the process, at one point stopping to explain the nature of “granular materials,” used by the Public Works Department. Street repaving projects, new water meters, water filter engineering, vehicle tires and tubes, a parking garage maintenance agreement, and building automation software maintenance – these are item that would normally stir controversy.

 

The purchase of three new City vehicles, though, did result in some discussion, as new Ninth Ward Alderman Coleen Burrus questioned why, after adopting a Climate Action Plan, the City did not pursue more efficient vehicles. The answer from City staff came in two parts: First, there are no fuel-efficient alternatives for large trucks (although about a quarter of the truck fleet now operates on biodiesel fuel); and second, hybrids are expensive. Ald. Burrus stuck to her guns though, saying, “There is a hybrid version of the Ford Escape [one of the vehicles being purchased].” The item passed and aldermen and City staff appear to be alerted to the fact that at least one alderman may take environmental issues seriously.

 

The Planning and Development agenda carried only two items: a first-time application for a sidewalk café by Dozika Restaurant, located at

Dempster Street

and

Chicago Avenue

, which was approved. The second was a report about the City’s down-payment assistance program, which is funded by the City and the federal governments and has helped seven first-time homebuyers purchase homes in Evanston in the full year since implementation.

 

The regular Council meeting began with a flurry of awards. Preservation and Design awards went to 11 homes for renovations that preserved historic features. The Citizen Emergency Response Team graduated its fourth class. The Water Department celebrated its perfect score (“zero deviations”) for the second time in a row. And the official certification of election results arrived from the Cook County Clerk, elicited a, “Whew!” of relief from Mayor Tisdahl.

 

After the awards and the passage of the consent agenda, there was really no business to discuss. One City staff member said, “We gave them a bunch of softballs for the first meeting. The really tough issues come next meeting.”

 

During Call of the Wards, the last action before the public Council meeting adjourns, aldermen Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, and Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, rose to warn citizens of increasing crime and encourage everyone to lock cars and doors and be careful. As if to highlight their concern, the City bills contained two separate orders for “Police Line – Do Not Cross” tape. Is a long, hot summer coming?