At a special City Council meeting held on Sept. 21, the ten members of the City Council – the nine aldermen and the Mayor – agreed that 12 of the many issues facing the City would be their priorities for at least the coming year.
Earlier, City Manager Walter Bobkiewicz had created a list of 39 issues the City currently faces, many of them drawn from the City’s 2007 strategic plan.
In a summary presentation to the Council, Mr. Bobkiewicz said he believed it was important for the Council to come to a consensus about their priorities – whether drawn from his list or proposed by the Council members – “to move forward with the City’s strategic plan.”
He urged the Council to decide on “specific priorities and measurable objectives” and added, “The main purpose is to move Evanston forward.”
He outlined his 39 issues and gave reasons he thought each would be a worthy goal for Council to adopt. In general categories, the proposals covered economic development (in neighborhoods and downtown); City services, planning for expenditures (budget, capital improvement, Robert Crown Center, streets/alleys, lakefront); quality of life (amenities, visual and performing arts, property standards); youth; zoning; and parking.
In alphabetical order, the priorities selected by City Council members are as follows: affordable housing; budget planning; capital improvement program planning; the [Evanston] climate action plan; economic development (including the sale of water to neighboring communities and revitalizing neighborhood business districts); efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of City services; establishing a federal/state/regional affairs agenda; lakefront development; [relations with] Northwestern University; the firefighter and police pension fund liabilities; and repairs to the Robert Crown Center.
Under the process agreed upon at the Sept. 21 meeting, any issue receiving at least six votes would be considered in the priority selection. Issues receiving fewer than six votes would drop off the list – but not necessarily out of sight or oversight.
“These 39 issues are all important,” said First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske, and many seemed to agree with Third Ward Alderman Melissa Wynne, who said, “Some things will not be [chosen] because they are moving along.”
Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “These are not necessarily where the most money needs to be spent but [the ones that are] important.” Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said, “I chose the things that are revenue-generating. We have to do things that generate revenue before we can do anything else.”
Many Council members agreed “affordable housing” was an issue that Council should address. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, “Affordable housing requires an affordable-housing plan. … [Ours] needs to be revised.” She also said she thought the City should expand its tax base to make Evanston an affordable place to live.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she would like to see the City re-examine the “affordable-housing tax and the teardown tax.” She also said she did not want to see affordable housing created in only the “three poorest wards of the City.”
Many items were folded into the “economic development” concept. “I see economic development [as including] attracting, retaining and growing businesses, branding and the development of partnerships,” said Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover.
“Branding,” according to Mr. Bobkiewicz’s proposal, would entail “evaluating the current use of the City of Evanston brand and identifying ways to better implement its use.”
Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he would also include fostering the development of minority-owned and Evanston-based businesses. Water sales – which Mayor Tisdahl supported as a means of revenue generation – also went into the “economic development” column. Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said she agreed that the City should seek additional revenue from water sales. “Water is the new oil,” she added.
Nearly all the Council members voted to establish, in Mr. Bobkiewicz’s terms, “a government-affairs agenda for priority issues of the City in Springfield, Washington and among regional agencies such as the RTA, CTA and Metra.” Adopting this as a goal, he said, is a bigger issue than just hiring a lobbyist – something that has been brought up in meetings over the past months. “The issue is bigger … [it is] for all the places we need a place at the table.”
Lakefront development was again placed on the Council’s to-do list, with the implication by some aldermen that the lakefront is an asset to be developed to generate revenue.
Repairing the dilapidating Robert Crown Center appealed to most of the alderman. “Robert Crown is the asset that is deteriorating the most (short of [the Civic Center]).” “Safety,” said Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes, in proposing that as a Council goal, “[involves] more than just the police – it’s a community issue.”
A final item, the City’s liabilities in the police and firefighters pension funds was not on Mr. Bobkiewicz’s list but garnered a place of its own in the Council’s final goals. The liabilities were estimated to be more than $159 million as of March 1 of this year. Adequately funding these pension funds is a problem for many municipalities statewide, and some officials have said they hope for help from Springfield in addressing the issue.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said he plans to provide the Council periodically with more detailed information about how to implement the ideas entailed in these priorities.
Schedule for Discussion of Goals
The City Council was scheduled to begin its discussion of the selected goals at the Sept. 29 meeting. Other topics are scheduled as follows:
Oct. 12: Safety; and Federal/State/Regional Government Affairs Agenda
Oct. 19: Capital Improvement Program Planning
Oct. 26: Economic Development andEfficiency and Effectiveness of Services
Nov. 9: Affordable Housing
Nov. 16: Climate Action Plan; Lakefront Development and Robert Crown Improvements
Nov. 23: Northwestern University and Police and Firefighter Pension Funds