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When it comes to running the Evanston City government, the Mayor, aldermen, City Manager and City staff are just the tip of the iceberg. Backing them up, conducting research on critical areas of City business, pioneering new ways and ideas, and presenting recommendations that are often refined but sometimes accepted straightaway are 36 boards, committees and commissions. The 29 B/C/Cs appointed by the Mayor have at least one City staff member on board.
In 2006, then-City Manager Julia Carroll created the Boards, Commissions and Committees Review Committee (B/C/C/ Committee), composed of City staff and members of the League of Women Voters of Evanston (LWVE). This was done as a way to help implement Goal #9 of the City’s Strategic Plan: “More effectively utilize boards, commissions and committees.”
The multi-year study of the 29 appointed B/C/Cs, headed by Jessica Feldman of LWVE and successive members of the City’s law department, found that, while many of the B/C/Cs work well, most could use a substantive review of their mission statement and a subsequent realignment; a few could benefit from readjustment of purpose; and still fewer should be eliminated.
Ms. Feldman and Sue Calder of LWVE and Elke Tober-Purze of the City’s legal department presented the study to the Rules Committee earlier this month, describing their purpose and some of the recommendations. Rules Committee members said they would like to hear further presentations before the study reaches City Council.
Process and Problems
Through questionnaires to observers, City staff and members of the boards, commissions and committees, the B/C/C Committee identified problems with a number of the boards, committees and commissions in the following areas: vacancies, recruitment and appointments; training and orientation; quorums; meeting cancellations; minutes (content, timeliness and storage); term limits; clarity of roles for members, chairs and staff; and reports.
The B/C/C Committee also noted other operational problems, such as a lack of consistency in giving adequate notice of meetings, agendas and cancellations and a lack of uniformity in keeping and presenting minutes.
The B/C/C Committee identified as well a need for maintaining a database of members, term-expiration dates and vacancies and a need, also, for posting that information on the City’s website. They also said each board, commission or committee should conduct an annual review and present it to the aldermen.
The B/C/C Committee recommends the creation of an advisory committee – the Boards, Commissions and Committees Advisory Committee – to help address these problems without adding to the burden on City staff and to see that vacancies are filled in a timely manner.
Many of the recommendations involve a reassessment of each board, commission or committee’s work as it relates to its own mission; member self-evaluations and evaluations of the operations of the entity; and an overview of each board, commission or committee’s accomplishments and challenges. Another recommendation is to have “B/C/Cs recruit and enlist residents to provide pro bono professional expertise for assistance on City projects.”
The B/C/C Committee also recommends realigning some major B/C/Cs, redirecting their reports to other Council committees so as to reduce layers of review, and eliminating some that have been so lacking in quorums and content as not to have met regularly for years.
The B/C/C Committee would like to see a policy for City boards, commissions and committees implemented within nine months of Council’s adopting the report.
In addition, the study says the Committee is nearing completion of its “Handbook for Members of Boards, Commissions, and Committees in the City of Evanston, Illinois,” which will be “provided to all of Evanston’s B/C/C staff, leaders and other members.”
Keeping in mind Goal #9, the report states two measures of success: “B/C/Cs that are credible, productive and [that] improve the quality of life” and “selection and improved attendance of interested and qualified candidates.”
Some Recommendations from the League Study
B/C/C Committee made several types of recommendations for improving the efficacy of City boards, commissions and committees: conducting annual self-assessments, simplifying the reporting chain, reconfiguring duties and outright elimination.
As examples, the committee recommends that the police and firefighters pension boards report directly to City Council. The Energy Commission and the Environment Board would report to the Administration and Public Works Committee, under the B/C/C committee recommendation.
The committee also recommends that the Property Services Board, inactive for ten years now, be “”reconstituted under a new ordinance and established as a ‘Construction Appeals Board,'”” which would deal with construction-related appeals.
Three options for the Plan Commission were presented by the Committee. “”Given the dearth currently of projects before the Plan Commission, this is a good time for this commission to review its mandate and operations, focusing on planning rather than project reviews,”” reads the recommendation. To that end the Committee recommends separating zoning issues from planning issues. On the review side of development projects, the Committee recommends that the Site Plan and Appearance Review Committee (SPAARC) add more citizen architects, make “”more formal and more forceful appraisals of projects’ and include time for citizen comment. Implementing some of these changes might require adjusting the meeting times, the Committee said.
Slated for elimination under the B/C/C Committee study, together with suggested action, are the following committees: Board of Examiners of Stationary Engineers (function to be transferred to the superintendent of the Water Department and the Public Works director); the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Public Place Names (replaced by ad-hoc committees as necessary); City/Chamber of Commerce Committee (to become an ad-hoc committee); Electrical Commission (inactive for ten years; members could be transferred to, and duties assumed by, the proposed new Construction Appeals Board); and Taxicab Advisory Board (could be replaced by a task force). The Flood and Pollution Control Commission was terminated during the study, as “”all Commission members indicated that their assignment was virtually completed.””