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Long meetings have returned to the Civic Center, as City Council met until well past 10:30 p.m. on March 22. Outside of a few particular items, mostly covered elsewhere in this issue, the agenda was relatively light. But a few items is all it takes.

At the beginning of the Council meeting, as has been the case for the past few months, two more of the 12 goals Council set for itself were discussed. Joe McRae, assistant to the City Manager, led off with a presentation of planned customer service initiatives in response to Council’s goal of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of service. The City plans to streamline how the City communicates with residents and how residents communicate with the City through what staff calls the “360 degree communication initiative.”

The cornerstone to the initiative will be a new 311 phone service, centralizing all calls into the City through a customer service request system. Citizens will have one number to call, and representatives will then direct calls appropriately, the new service is slated to launch, (when else?) on 3/1/11, though it should be operational and “soft launch” by Jan. 1, said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.

During the Administration and Public Works meeting, the approval of the award of the contract to resurface streets to A. Lamp Concrete Contractors under the Motor Fuel Tax resurfacing program met with resistance from Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. She objected to on two grounds: first, that staff recommended the contract go to the fourth-lowest bidder rather than the lowest bidder, and second that the contractor chosen had previously caused problems in the Eighth Ward.

Paul Schneider, City Engineer, and Lloyd Shepard, business development coordinator, said the three low bidders failed to meet the Minority, Women, and Evanston Business Enterprise Program (M/W/EBE) requirement, which mandates that contractors use MWEBE subcontractors to perform work amounting to at least 25% of the contract price. In some cases, said Mr. Shepard, the bidders simply failed to fill out or include the right forms with their bids. Complying with M/W/EBE, in this case, increases project cost more than $82,000 on a project expected to run nearly $1.283 million. The project cost is still about $315,000 less than the City’s pre-bid estimated cost.

Ald. Rainey also cited the “horrible mess on Custer [Avene]” and “irresponsibility for safety of workers” during an A. Lamp project on that street. Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, responded by saying, “Five years ago, you [Ald. Rainey] were right,” but staff contacted them and they have improved. “It’s not like they’ve been unresponsive to our concerns,” he added, saying that projects in his ward completed by A. Lamp have gone well, specifically the Dodge Avenue resurfacing. The contract ultimately passed at Council, 7-2, with Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, joining Ald. Rainey in voting no.

The remainder of A&PW concerned issued such as sewer-pipe spot lining, purchasing janitorial supplies and hot asphalt, and the like. The City’s special events calendar passed, with events starting with the Neighborhood Way of the Cross at St. Nicholas Parish on April 2 and ending with the Fountain Square holiday events in December.

Council gave to some, but not to others. The Citizen’s Lighthouse Trust failed to get funding, but Council agreed to commit $600,000 in HOME funds to Brinshore Development as part of the City’s plan to acquire and rehab foreclosed properties in the two census tracts covered by the NSP2 award of $18.15 million. Lehman Walker, Community Development Director, said that according to a letter from HUD it was “necessary for the City to commit some funds” from the 2008 HOME award “so that they’re not reallocated to HUD.”

The City also awarded $11,000 in Economic Development funds to assist in the renovation of the façade of the 816-818 Church Street Building. In addition, $80,000 went to the Evanston Community Development Corporation for micro-loan activities in West Evanston. Finally, Council voted to fund the Technology Information Center in the amount of $100,000.

City Council also approved a grant agreement between the City and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to conduct phase one of the Evanston Lakeshore Historic District Survey. The survey will cover the lakeshore from Greenleaf Street to South Boulevard and west to Hinman Avenue. The survey will gather information on about 200 buildings in the area and provide that information to the public on the internet. The City pays $5,200 of the $17,200 total cost with the balance coming from a state grant.