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On a night dominated by informational presentations and split by a celebration of and a reception for Evanston’s new Nobel Laureate, City business only took up a small portion of the three-hour meeting.
The presentations were so many that during call of the wards Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, threw up her hands in protest.
“Presentation after presentation after presentation – it’s just not helpful,” she said. “Citizens walk out bored, and actual City business gets pushed aside. A Nobel Prize winner should have been enough,” she said. “I think this Council needs to get a grip on its agenda.”
The presentations took the form of four Special Orders of Business (the last one postponed by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz as the time slipped by), City Manager announcements, the presentation of the Key to the City to Nobelist Dale T. Mortensen, and mayoral proclamations.
Citizen comment, filled with preachers rather than library supporters and chickens, then followed. Finally, City business took place, consisting almost entirely of non-controversial items and controversial measures introduced for later debate.
Good news came in the form of an announcement that the City Health Department has found a partner, Erie Family Health Center, to open and operate a Federally Qualified Health Center in Evanston. Look for more information in the coming weeks.
Not-so-good news came from the lobbying and grant application update from Intergovernmental Affairs Coordinator Matt Swentkofske and Holland and Knight lobbyist Dustin McDonald (who flew in from Washington to deliver the sour news).
The City “shot for” grants in three priority areas and got none, said Mr. Swentkofske. Saying efforts are “moving forward” seemingly dozens of times, he promised continued efforts to build relationships with government officials and agencies such as RTA, CTA, Metra, CMAP (Chicago Metropolitan Area Planning Agency) and PACE.
And a new website is in the offing, so “everyone can know what’s happening so we can move forward,” he said.
Mr. McDonald’s news was no better. The City’s lobbyists [paid $200,000 annually], he said, are planning to “move forward with identifying and applying for federal dollars.”
They met with City department heads to determine priorities by department, then “sought to work with department heads” to identify federal opportunities. … [That’s] the bulk of the work we’ve done so far.”
Keeping with the theme, he said the lobbyists would continue to “move forward” and seek as many funding options as possible. But he said that, given the Republican takeover of the U.S. House, the pot of available money will shrink.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, asked whether, given there has been no “tangible product” of the firm’s efforts as yet, there was a timeline within which the efforts can be expected to bear fruit.
Mr. McDonald said the timeline for seeking earmarks in appropriations bills is unpredictable, but he expected Congress to “move forward” with funding local infrastructure projects in 2012.
Grant applications, he said, are much more predictable, and both he and Mr. Swentkofske said that a master calendar of application due dates will help streamline the application process.
The City’s newly hired Development Officer, Devon Woodard, followed with an “activities update.” His primary duty, he said, is to “raise non-tax revenue” for the City. He gave a fundraising overview, saying Evanston would seek donations from numerous sources while at the same time selling the Evanston brand to commercial and corporate interests in the form of naming rights and sponsorships.
Such efforts, he emphasized, have not been “consistent across the City.” He will “level the playing field across City departments.”
A lengthy affordable-housing update followed, after which citizen comment finally began.
Ald. Rainey pushed Ward Manufacturing to the front of the consent agenda for another presentation. Favorable property tax treatment and a $700,000 TIF gift to the company passed 9-0.
The consent agenda introduced a number of items to be debated at the next meeting. The controversial new traffic light at a Northwestern parking lot mid-block between Garret Place and Library Place on Sheridan will be debated next time, but the proposal has City staff and Northwestern support and appears to have Council backing.
Tax hikes on motor fuel, electricity consumption (everyone’s ComEd bill) and projects that block public ways were also introduced. The truancy ordinance was introduced without debate. Proposed changes to the chicken ordinance were introduced for debate next time.