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Poetry launched the City Council meeting on June 14, with Evanston poets striding to the lectern to read the works selected to be stamped into the walkway in front of the main branch library. “Do you think you could all come back?” asked Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. “This is a really good way to start a meeting.” It was a tough act to follow. Discussions concerning city bills, a traffic light, union contracts, elm trees, and a property purchase, while utilitarian, were not as inspiring.
The Administration and Public Works Committee tussled with the list of bills for the first time in over a year. Since the written response format was instituted, giving aldermen the chance to send e-mail questions to staff and have them answered prior to the meeting, the City list of bills has not been questioned during meetings. That changed Monday night.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, questioned Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons about FICA payments of more than $10,000 on behalf of two firefighters. Firefighters hired after a certain date in the mid-1980s do not pay social security payroll taxes because their retirement is covered by a pension. Nevertheless, the City paid FICA and deducted funds from two individual’s paychecks.
The error was caught after two years and reimbursement checks were issued to the firefighters. Ald. Rainey wondered how this could possibly happen. Mr. Lyons admitted the error should have been caught earlier. “It just makes you feel that, God, what else are we missing?” said Ald. Rainey.
A cable bill for the Howard Street police outpost that should have been assigned to Mason Park also caught Ald. Rainey’s eye. It was probably just a mis-key said City staff. A loan to the business “I Dream of Sweets” on Dempster Street so the business could construct a bathroom drew the next question. Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward asked, “How could this happen?” Mr. Bobkiewicz said that a City employee, since fired, had given the restaurant bad advice. Since the business followed the advice, the City gave the business a loan to correct the resulting problem.
The lesson to be learned from all the questions: Ald. Rainey is still watching the City’s bills list like a hawk.
A&PW approved the purchase of fungicide to help control Dutch elm disease. Paul D’Agostino, director of forestry, said the program had been more than 99 percent successful in protecting trees that have been injected, and more than 97 percent successful overall. When asked by Ald. Rainey how Evanston compares to other cities, he said that Evanston is one of the few cities injecting its public trees and that municipalities that are not injecting trees are losing elms as a result. “Our trees look great,” said Ald. Rainey.
The City successfully negotiated a new contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union. Given the budget crisis and current economic situation, the union accepted significant concessions, City officials said. Negotiations with the Firefighters union did not go as well.
City Council voted to purchase two foreclosed and abandoned houses on Darrow Avenue near Church Street using funds from the West Evanston TIF fund. Dennis Marino, Planning Division Director, said the properties were a blight in the community and would be razed. The property fits within the longer range mixed income, mixed use development planned for the Church/Darrow location. Now is a good time to buy, he added, when appraisals are low. The total cost for the two properties is $220,000, $20,000 less than their appraised value.
The City is stepping in as a sponsor for this year’s Evanston Grand Prix bicycle race Northwestern has agreed to pay $5,000 of the sponsorship cost, leaving the City’s tab at $5,000. The sponsorship was necessary to keep the race here this year, as hard economic times and a drop in funding from a key sponsor left the event in serious doubt. Given that the event is expected to bring about 20,000 spectators to downtown Evanston July 18, the City Manager called $5,000 to save it a “bargain.”
Council agreed to the resolution authorizing the City Manager to negotiate with Northwestern regarding the traffic light on Sheridan at the Northwestern parking lot just south of Garret Place. Community opposition was vocal, but in the end pedestrian safety trumped concerns about traffic flow and adding a stoplight where there is no real intersection. An amendment proposed by Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, requiring the City Manager to discuss Northwestern’s long-range capital plans, specifically regarding parking decks and roadways, was added by a 5-3 vote, with “no” votes from Aldermen Don Wilson, 4th Ward, Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, and Jane Grover, 7th Ward; but the resolution, as amended, passed 8-0.
The public part of the meeting ended with poetry of a sort, as Ald. Wilson read the section of the Illinois Code that details topics that may be legally addressed without the public present. The Code lacks a certain spirit that Evanston’s poets definitely possess.