The Rules Committee of City Council, the Human Services Committee and the Robert Crown subcommittee of the Playground and Recreation Board all met on Oct. 5. Below are some highlights of those meetings. Topics included the mission of the City’s Human Relations Commission, the possibility of allowing residents to raise chickens, and replacing rather than repairing the Robert Crown Center.

Rules Committee

The State of Illinois has made changes to the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which will go into effect on Jan. 1. City Clerk Rodney Greene said he will hold a training session for City Council members about the new FOIA requirements – presumably at an open meeting.

Human Services Committee: HRC

Oversight of the City’s Human Relations Commission falls to the Human Services Committee. Three members of the Human Relations Commission attended the Oct. 5 Human Services Committee meeting to discuss ways they implement the mission of the Commission “to foster the improvement of human relations in Evanston among citizens of all races, colors, creeds and national origins.”

Commission vacancies and morale both appeared to be at high levels, according to the presentation made by Commission members. A back-and-forth between Commission members and Committee members elicited some differences between what the Commission aspires to do and what it is doing at present.

Recruitment to fill board vacancies, said First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske, “is best done by members [themselves]. You’re doing important work. [You can] use this energy when you talk to [prospective members] who share your enthusiasm.”

Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, recounted some past accomplishments of the Human Relations Commission, including helping mount a lawsuit over discriminatory housing. She said she felt that the responsibilities of Evonda Thomas, the director of health and human services, who serves as staff to the Commission, were spread too thinly – “she has about 10 areas of responsibility” – and that without a staff person leading the Commission, it has become a “second-class citizen. … If we think this is so important, we should hire someone to lead it.” Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “We need to have a deeper discussion about the place of the Human Relations Commission in our community.”

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, suggested that the Commission begin a program of civility that could lead to a community-wide discussion or program of civil discourse. She referred to a program, called “Speak Your Peace,” used in one city in Wisconsin.Human Services Committee: Chickens

The Human Services Committee also received information about the possibility of an ordinance allowing chickens to be raised on residential property in Evanston.

Information provided by Carl Caneva of the Health and Human Services Department showed that Oak Park, Northbrook, Hoffman Estates and Arlington Heights allow residents to raise chickens – three at most (in Northbrook) – with certain limitations. At present, Skokie, Schaumburg, Palatine, Park Ridge, Niles and Buffalo Grove have bans on chickens. Mr. Caneva’s memo said Debbie Hillman of the Evanston Food Policy Council, as well as a private citizen, had contacted the department about an ordinance that would allow chickens to be raised on private property. The committee took no action, as this was listed as a “communications” item.

Robert Crown Center Subcommittee

In preparation for the City Council discussion about repairs to the Robert Crown Center, slated for Nov. 16, the Robert Crown subcommittee of the City’s Playground and Recreation Board met on Oct. 5. Doug Gaynor, director of Parks/Forestry and Recreation for the City, said he felt a public/private partnership would be preferable to a City-only effort in rebuilding the Center. Bob Dorneker, superintendent of the City’s recreation division, said that, since the scope of the programs in a new center have not yet been fully identified, there are no cost estimates for it.

The members of the subcommittee – Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, Mr. Gaynor, Mr. Dorneker, Mark Metz (chair), Mark Sloane and Randall Mayne – agreed that they would like to see the new center include two ice rinks, a branch library, space for special recreation, improved gym facilities and enhancements of the programs already at the center, childcare and dance, karate and other classes.

The members agreed they would like to see the new center built nearer the corner of Main Street and Dodge Avenue (west of the present center). That location would allow more unbroken open space for recreational fields and could help drive businesses to the commercial plazas on the other three corners. The members hope to have a concept plan ready for the Nov. 16 City Council meeting.