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A hodgepodge agenda faced Evanston’s City Council on a night dominated by the debate over surveillance cameras, a debate that once again brought a Chicago news camera to council chambers. Contention lurked in numerous corners, including the bidding process for water contracts, the proposed purchase of a new recycling truck that may or may not be needed, and “conduit financing” for Chiaravalle Montessori whereby Evanston City bonds secure Chiarvalle’s debt. The hodgepodge continued on the noncontroversial side, as zoning appeals fees were restructured, a new sidewalk café was approved, and a sustainable pest control resolution was adopted.
At Administration and Public Works, two water department contracts sailed through without issue – an asbestos abatement contract for $67,900 ($88,000 was budgeted) and a contract for water distribution system valves for $27,112. But the Committee held middle of three water department requests, for engineering services for the 1964 Filter Addition Rehabilitation project, over concerns about the bidding process.
The water department began the filter rehab project by hiring a consulting firm to evaluate the process and recommend a method for rehab. The City decided on the method recommended, then issued a request for bids to complete the engineering work for the project. Before Council was a request to approve the award of the contract to the same firm that provided the initial consulting work, CDM, despite the fact that they were not the low bidder.
Aldermen Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, both raised concerns. Ald. Rainey said CDM appeared to have an inside track because it would seem obvious that a consulting firm would recommend a process that they were the best at engineering. Ald. Jean-Baptiste worried about what he called “the broader question” of bidders having an “inside advantage” in the bidding process. The item was held in committee at Ald. Jean-Baptiste’s request for the City Manager to review after Dave Stonebeck, [new title?], assured Council that the requested work was not immediately necessary but could wait.
The proposed purchase of a new recycling truck, half paid for by a $55,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, passed Council but only after Ald. Jean-Baptiste secured an agreement from Director of Public Works Suzette Robinson to return to Council before she placed the actual order for the truck. The City has not yet finally decided garbage and recycling matters. As of now, the City collects garbage and contracts out recycling collection. A pending proposal would have the City collect recycling and contract out garbage collection. The uncertainty led Ald. Jean-Baptiste to wonder, “Would we have purchased this truck without the grant? … It’s hard for me to understand the logic of this request.”
Ms. Robinson tried to assure Council that the new recycling truck will be needed regardless of the ultimate provision of recycling and garbage collection services, but Ald. Jean-Baptiste remained skeptical. “When is this purchase supposed to be executed?… Have you identified the truck?… Is it a custom truck?” he asked. The grant must be spent before the end of the year, replied Ms. Robinson, but the final configuration of City services will not be approved until July or August. She agreed to return to Council before placing the order for the truck.
The Chiaravelle Montessori bond issue debate began during the April 13 meeting and resulted in a special public bond hearing April 26. The public, sparse in the council chambers to begin with, did not appear at all for the bond issuance hearing. Council passed the bond issuance ordinance easily.
The bonds, worth $5.5 million, will be issued by the City to secure debt by Chiarvelle Montessori to their bank, Northern Trust. The school will get funds to cover construction costs while the City will get $1.9 million for the purchase of the property immediately, plus $200,000 to be placed in escrow for improvements to Currey Park to be completed after school construction. The issue was whether the City could be liable for the bonds if Chiaravelle defaults on its loan payments.
City Attorney Grant Farrar assured Council that the City would not be liable, essentially because we say that we cannot e liable. The Ordinance issuing the bonds states that the City has no liability. Bond Council hired by Chiaravelle states in an opinion letter that the City cannot be liable. Some skepticism remained – the City is issuing the bonds, and the issuing statute states, “The bonds are special, limited obligations of the City, payable solely out of the revenues and income of the City derived pursuant to the Loan Agreement.” Council was satisfied, however, that there were enough protections and assurances to prevent any liability from ever attaching, and the ordinance passed unanimously. As a result, the City expects to receive $1.9 million this fiscal year from the sale of the Chiaravelle property.
Council approved changes in fees charged for zoning applications and appeals in response to large transcript fees that resulted from the Great Hall debate. The changes reflect new technology that allows public hearings to be recorded and stored for transcription later, if needed.
Council also passed a resolution adopting a sustainable pest control and pesticide reduction policy. Prepared by the Environment Board, the resolution seeks to reduce the use of pesticides by the City on City-owned property while educating the general public and private sector about environmentally friendly pest control methods.