Twenty-two or 23 times a year, the Evanston City Council gathers on a Monday night in Council chambers for a regular City Council meeting. A regular meeting consists, in fact, of three meetings: The Administration and Public Works Committee meets first, kicking off around 5:45 in the evening, and addresses the day-to-day affairs of the City. An A&PW meeting tends to focus on streets, sanitation, and parks.
At around 7:15 p.m., the Planning and Development Committee meets, focusing on zoning, building permits, and other real estate matters. The P&D Committee has, unsurprisingly, been relatively quiet this year, in stark contrast to years past when major developments such as the dormant downtown tower project filled starry Evanston nights.
The regular City Council meeting begins about 15 minutes after P&D ends, usually around 8 p.m. A short night at A&PW and P&D means an early start time for Council.
Committees are made up of five aldermen each; meaning the full Council, joined by the Mayor, reach chambers when Council starts. Many items discussed, argued, and eventually passed in committee are not even discussed at the Council meeting but instead pass on the “Consent Agenda.” The Consent Agenda, read by the senior sitting alderman (Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, since Eb Moran retired last year), identifies items for passage. Any item not removed for further discussion will be approved on the consent agenda.
Here are items of interest culled from the Nov. 22 meetings:
Line of Credit
The State of Illinois is having trouble paying its bills, and Cook County property tax bills were issued two months later than expected. Thus, the City of Evanston may have to wait a while for payments due from the State and County. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons both said that the City needed to be prepared for such a delay and proposed opening a $10 million line of credit.
“Why should they have it and not us? It’s our money! How can they keep our money?” asked Ald. Rainey. She asked about how efforts to lobby elected officials were proceeding.
Saying that the City was forced to “pick from a list of undesirable topics” to find one with an actual chance of success, Mr. Bobkiewicz said the City’s efforts were focused primarily on pension reform when talking to State representatives. Reform of police and firefighter pension obligations would save the City the most in the long term, much more than timely payment of all amounts owed to the City by the State, Mr. Bobkiewicz said.
Finding its way to the Consent Agenda, the line of credit passed at Council level without discussion. Mr. Bobkiewicz will shortly open a $10 million line of credit with Chase Bank in order to meet payroll and other obligations if State and County money fails to roll in when expected.
The City as Landowner
Two properties in the midst of foreclosure proceedings, according to Ald. Rainey, may be purchased by the City. Both properties are on Howard Street, one at 727-29 and the other at 629-31. The City is authorized to spend about $560,000 for both, with funding coming from the Howard-Ridge tax-increment financing (TIF) account.
The City does not plan to keep the buildings for long, said Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, but instead wants to return them to the market. The purchase is part of continuing efforts to reinvigorate Howard Street and return it to a vital commercial corridor, said Ald. Rainey.
Streamlined Liquor Rules
A restaurant holding a liquor license that seeks a change in the type of license it holds must submit an entirely new license application, including fingerprint checks and other paperwork. In essence, the owner must go back to square one.
This was the case until the passage of the “Panino’s Ordinance” on Nov. 22. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who under Evanston law also serves as the City’s liquor commissioner, publicly thanked Panino’s Pizza owner Lenny Rago for bringing this matter to her attention. A streamlined, expedited process for applicants staying in the same location and under the same ownership makes her job easier and prevents burdensome and redundant paperwork for an applicant who wants to shift from beer and wine to a full bar.
Speaking of Chickens …
The recently passed chicken ordinance returned to Council after a brief flight through the Human Services Committee, which generally meets on the first Monday of the month.
Ald. Rainey proposed an amendment that would spread out chicken coops among City wards. A one-year limit of 20 coops was included in the initial ordinance as passed. “It’s a matter of fairness,” said Ald. Rainey. “Every ward deserves a chance to get its share of coops.”
Applications for coops, however, have so far not shown a concentration of coops in any one ward, according to City documents provided to the Committee. Further, Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, pointed out that ward lines are arbitrary, and a concentration of coops could develop along ward borders. The Committee ultimately rejected Ald. Rainey’s proposal.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, pounced on the opportunity to tweak the ordinance, though. Concerns over a possibility that the language regarding slaughter of hens could lead citizens to believe that a coop license included a license to slaughter led her to propose an amendment clarifying the ordinance’s intent. Slaughter of hens is not permitted in Evanston absent a specific “license to slaughter.”
This revision also flew through Council on the Consent Agenda.
What is “Adult Day Care”?
The concept of “adult day care” seemed to throw Council a bit, tripping up the special use application of Omega Community Healthcare to open a new operation at 524-26 Davis St. Omega seeks to open a daily activity center for active seniors similar to a facility they operate in Lincolnwood. Seniors pay $60 per day to participate in on-site and offsite activities designed to keep them engaged and participating in their environment.
Ald. Fiske and Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, both said they preferred retail or restaurant uses for the space on Davis Street. The P&D Committee agreed, voting 5-0 to deny the special use.
After the vote was cast, Ted Mavrakis, owner and prospective landlord, said, “For three years this space is empty. Yes, I would welcome another restaurant, I would welcome another tenant. Can you find one for me?” He said he had checked out Omega’s Lincolnwood facility, and when there he found Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State, at the facility to praise its operation. He urged reconsideration.
Ald. Rainey, who at the P&D Committee said the label “adult day care” brought to mind Alzheimer’s care or other cognitive issues among participants, encouraged Mr. Mavrakis to take up the matter with full Council. At full Council, aldermen seemed divided about the center but voted to have the matter “introduced,” that is, put on the agenda for discussion at a later meeting.
And Finally, Truancy
A long developing effort to pass an ordinance making chronic truancy a violation of Evanston law passed Council on the Consent Agenda and without debate Monday night. The new ordinance subjects truants to a $100 fine, but only after a series of missteps.
Truants must first go through their schools truancy prevention system, during which they and their parents or guardians will be referred to Restorative Justice Project’s Community Accountability Board (CAB). The Board, made up of community citizens, will try to identify the root causes of the truant behavior and craft a plan for correcting or accommodating the truant.
Only if a truant fails to participate in the CAB process will the ordinance kick in and subject the truant to fines.
The Ordinance was championed by Police Chief Richard Eddington and the Restorative Justice Project, and received a stamp of approval from District 65 and District 202. Concerns raised by Ald. Jean-Baptiste and Alderman Delores Homes, 5th ward, that the ordinance could result in increased negative contact between the police and Evanston teens were allayed by assurances that the police would not be seeking to enforce it among teens they find on the street. If kids are on the street during school hours, said Chief Eddington, the police question them whether there’s a truancy ordinance or not.