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City Council came back from a brief Labor Day break with a vengeance. An overstuffed and controversial agenda packed Council chambers with citizens overflowing to the hallway to watch the live televised feed.

Firefighters, taxi cab drivers, library supporters, and many others frequently checked their watches waiting for their item of interest to arise.

Notably absent were the backyard chicken supporters, and it nearly cost them dearly. In the end, much of the meeting was preliminary, setting the stage for difficult decisions to come.

The Good

City Staff received an award for doubling their contributions to the United Way this past campaign. The new campaign kicks off in just two weeks and the United Way hopes to be back next year to give out another such award.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl swore in the City’s “new” Fire Chief, Greg Klaiber – “new,” although Mr. Klaiber served as interim chief since May and has been in the Evanston fire department for 25 years.

He delivered a stirring speech, saying, “I am honored and humbled to lead this great department” and, addressing the union, said, “I understand that my role has changed [and] I am on the other side of the table now, but I’ll never forget where I came from.” He also praised the inspirational leadership of former fire chief Sanders Hicks, Evanston’s first black fire chief.

The Mundane

The asphalt crack sealing contract met approval easily, as did approval of the purchase of more parking meters. Evanston is getting a new ambulance, officially an Emergency Medical Technician Vehicle.

Anyone who has ever wondered how much a fully equipped ambulance costs can now rest easy with curiosity sated: It costs just under $214,000.

The Challenging

When a roofing contractor, G.E. Riddiford, began work on the replacement of the roof at the water department’s high lift pumping station, they discovered that at some point between 1940 and 1980 another roofer decided to concrete over an old roof and lay a new roof on top of the concrete. Now eight layers thick, heavy, and deteriorating, all the old layers must come off. The cost, once about $76,000, now soars to nearly $110,000.

Director of Utilities Dave Stonebeck said, “I feel fortunate we observed this. I have a strong suspicion that if we put solar panels [on the old 8 layer roof] we would have had a problem.”

The economy put another development project on hold as the AMLI development at Chicago Avenue and Kedzie Street, across from the Firehouse Restaurant and including some of the old Evanston Subaru site, asked for an additional year.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, reported that the developer planned to begin construction in 2011, but the economy will likely determine whether or not that happens. She said she favored the mixed-use rental development and supported the extension of time for construction to begin.

“If anything is going to be built in Evanston in the next few years, it will be rental. This project was developed with more community input than any other development project I’ve seen in Evanston,” she said.

Ald. Wynne also supported, and Council approved, a height extension for another project in the Third Ward. Staff recommended the height extension up to 54.8 inches, but the Zoning Board recommended a height of only 52 feet. Zoning calls for a height of 50 feet in that area.

The Sublime

Most of the night’s meeting time was filled by debate over two topics that failed to reach resolution: library funding and a revised taxicab ordinance.

Two other topics were crowded out of discussion and simply sent back to committee: backyard chickens and the truancy ordinance. The library discussion is covered on page 1, and by the time it ended, and the consent agenda that marks the beginning of the business portion of the City Council meeting began, time was already approaching 11:30 p.m.

A revised taxicab ordinance, discussed at length during the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, would strengthen the penalties against non-Evanston cabs’ picking up fares in the City.

Current law limits the number of Evanston taxi “medallions,” or licenses to operate cabs in Evanston, to 140. In recent years cab drivers report a significant increase in cabs from Lincolnwood, Wilmette and other neighboring communities poaching Evanston fares.

Poaching is not controversial – all speakers agreed that cruising the streets looking for fares is illegal and should be stopped. Less certain is so called “pre-arranged rides,” when a fare calls a cab company asking for a cab.

American Taxi has seven Evanston medallions, and when those seven cabs are busy, American is accused of filling call requests with non-Evanston taxis.

Driver after driver spoke, pleading with the Council for help, speaking of foreclosure, plunging income, and frustration. Council began to wrestle with this question, but in the end simply ran out of time. At the request of Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey, the matter will be taken up as a special order of business at the top of the agenda at the next meeting.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, asked Council to send the Community Accountability Truancy Program ordinance back to Committee.

“If we really want parents to be responsible [for their children’s’ school attendance] we should come back with an ordinance that says that,” she said. “I really feel there’s no need for an ordinance.” Council voted 8-1 to send it back, with Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, the lone no vote.

And then came the chickens.

“No chicken folks are here tonight,” said Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward. Ald. Wynne said that according to an e-mail distributed to the Backyard Chicken Committee, the group mistakenly believed that the matter would not be up for a vote. Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said he found a similar e-mail in his inbox.

Ald. Rainey pushed for a vote anyway. Ald. Wilson instead proposed holding the ordinance to add three amendments. First, he sought removal of the neighbor-consent provision.

Next, he sought clarification as to whether coops or chickens would be licensed. He said he prefers coops, as chickens would be tough to identify. “Is that Rover the chicken?” he asked rhetorically.

Third, he proposed a form of probationary adoption limiting the number of coops in the City to a certain number for the first year or so.

“Zero,” said City Clerk Rodney Green, as Ald. Wilson proposed 20 to 25. “All in the Fourth Ward,” said Ald. Rainey.

The ordinance will return, amended, and no doubt ushered to Council by the aforementioned chicken folks.

The Satisfying

The Mobile Food Truck Ordinance passed, but not without its share of drama. Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, told Council that restaurants along both Noyes Street and Benson Avenue expressed particular concern and opposition.

Ald. Fiske proposed an amendment exempting portions of those streets from the ordinance.

Ald. Rainey objected, saying she had a “negative feeling” about not allowing service on certain streets.

Ald. Wilson said that with hundreds of restaurants in the City, “I don’t think it would be fair to play favorites.” The amendment failed 8-1.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, then proposed an amendment restricting graphics on the outside of food trucks.

Over Ald. Rainey’s strenuous objection, primarily over bringing an amendment at the last minute after midnight, the amendment passed 8-1. The ordinance then passed 8-1, with Ald. Fiske voting no.

Look for the Mobile Kitchen on Evanston street corners in the coming months.