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The Evanston Black Business Association and Evanston Library Friends held a rally on Oct. 9 at Lake Street Church, 607 Lake St. EBBA members said the group remains concerned that local contractors, particularly minority contractors and those located in the Fifth and Eighth wards, may not receive their fair share of work in the major federally funded purchase/rehab effort in those wards.

Library Friends said they were very concerned about the City Manager’s recommendation to close the branch libraries. The two groups made plans to speak at the Oct. 11 City Council meeting.

The Friends and the Branches

The Friends group coalesced as an ad-hoc coaltion of supporters of the North and South branch libraries and, later, of expanded library services throughout Evanston. During last year’s budget process, the City Council agreed to fund the branch libraries only through August of this year and told the Friends group they had to come up with the funds to keep the branches open for the remainder of this fiscal year, that is, until March 1 of next year. Within four months, the Friends had raised more than enough money from private sources to keep both branches open until March 1.

Last week the Library Board approved a budget with funding to keep the branches open five days per week for the next fiscal year. A few days later, however, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz presented a proposed budget for the City that eliminate funding for the two branches.

The NSP2 Grant and the EBBA

The City has received $18 million in federal funds under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP2) to purchase and rehab 100 vacant and foreclosed homes in Evanston and return them to the market at prices deemed affordable under Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) guidelines.

The City’s private partner and general contractor for the project is Northbrook-based Brinshore Development. Brinshore will control the money, the acquisitions and the subcontracting process.

City officials have said the application for the NSP2 funds required the City to choose a private partner with a record of managing large projects, and the City chose Brinshore Development.

Under the terms of the grant, 25 percent of the work must go to contracting companies that are owned by minorities or women or companies based in Evanston. Another percentage of the work should go to contractors in the target areas. Dennis Marino, assistant director of community and economic development for the City, told the RoundTable that Brinshore has committed to meeting “at least” a 25 percent hiring requirement.

A second opportunity comes through a HUD requirement called “Section 3,” Sarah Flax, community development block grant administrator for the City, said. “Section 3 employment is aimed at the target area. … It promotes area businesses in those two census tracts,” she said. An individual or a business with income less than 80 percent of the area median income (AMI) can apply to be certified as a Section 3 business or employee, Ms. Flax said. She added that the City will help local businesses obtain certification. “We’re doing this for Evanston businesses,” she said; “other businesses have to obtain certification on their own.”

EBBA is nonetheless apprehensive about the amount of work its members will receive.

EBBA member Bennett Johnson said, ” We are black entrepreneurs who are trying to live the capitalist dream, and here comes the City and gives $14 million to one dude who lives in Northbrook.”

Citizen Comment

During citizen comment at the Oct. 11 City Council meeting, residents expressed their concerns about both issues.

Jim Hughes said, “Branches are truly the growth part of the library.” He produced figures showing that during 2009-10 there has been a “growth rate of 40-70 percent” at the two branches. “For about 9.5 percent of the budget, the branches are providing 75 percent of the key services of the library,” he added.

Jill Chamberlain said she felt the recommendation to cut the funding to the branches “made a mockery” of the citizens’ effort. She noted that many suggestions had been made at the citizens’ budget sessions that did not appear in the budget. “You owe it to your constituents not to be pitting residents against each other,” she said.

Charles Sheridan, a local contractor, said, “I’m not happy with you guys on City Council. When it comes to community benefits, you talk a lot; when it comes to giving out community benefits, it’s an entirely different thing.”

Junad Rizki appeared with Ponzi, his pink stuffed “budget” pig, to decry several items in the budget. He suggested that the City terminate the contract with its lobbyist, saving $200,000. He also said he believed the new 3-1-1 call center should be staffed with independent contractors, not employees, to save the City money in benefits and pensions.

Mr. Johnson combined the two issues by saying the Council has made or would make two decisions that would not help the unemployed youth of the community or help stop the “escalating violence in Evanston”: closing the branches and “giving 75 percent of the [NSP2] contracts to companies outside of Evanston.