Although there was no full City Council meeting after a May with five Mondays, the Human Services and Rules committees met Monday, June 6. At Rules, aldermen grappled again with meeting start times and what to call themselves and decided to change nothing. At Human Services, Grey Park, the golf course and Township budget took center stage.
Aldermen continue to try to tweak meeting start times to eliminate the impression that some people have, according to Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, “that we are just sitting around.” Ultimately, however, they decided that none of the proposed changes could appropriately balance, on the one hand, the need to provide a reliable time for people attempting to appear on specific issues against, on the other hand, the impression referenced by the Mayor.
They Are Still Aldermen
A proposal brought by Ald. Jane Grover, 7th Ward, to change the title “Alderman” to “Council Member” fell flat. Ald. Grover brought the proposal as a part of the City’s continuing effort to modernize “various portions of the City Code” to eliminate obsolete or redundant sections and add gender neutrality. Her proposal, though, found no support.
“I’m completely opposed to this change,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. “I’m extremely proud of my feminism and my politics … but I would hope we do not discuss this too long.” The term “Council member,” she said, does not distinguish aldermen as elected officials.
If not “Council Member,” perhaps ‘Alderperson,’ a change adopted by the state of Wisconsin, said Ald. Grover. But even that could get no traction. “I’ve had people suggest ‘Alderthing’ to me,” said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward.
Corporate Council Grant Farrar said that “alderman” is a term of art in the Illinois code and asked for time to research the ramifications of any change in term. Such research will not be necessary, however. Ald. Rainey proposed a resolution affirmatively keeping the title “alderman,” and it passed 9-1 [the Rules Committee includes the Mayor as a voting member] over Ald. Grover’s lone “no” vote.
Water for the Course
Golfers were out in force at the Human Services Committee meeting, as the City struggled to decide what to do about the fact that the Evanston-Wilmette Golf Course Association, Inc., which operates the Peter Jans public fee golf course, cannot pay its water bill. The golf course, 11 holes in Evanston and seven in Wilmette, owes Evanston over $12,000 and Wilmette $8,000 in past due bills and does not expect to be able to pay this year’s bills.
City Council will soon consider a resolution that would permit the City to continue to deliver water to the golf course through 2011. The City would then have the option of cancelling the lease and taking over the course at years’ end if the Association could still not pay its bill. It would allow the City to continue providing water at no cost in 2011 while holding the past-due amount in abeyance.
Ald. Grover said she was not comfortable with a water giveaway and proposed an amendment allowing the City to provide water and, at its option, bill the course for that water later. The amendment passed, as did the measure. The golf course now has a summer and fall golf season to find a way to generate enough revenue to pay for the water it uses. If it cannot, the City may find itself in early 2012 trying to figure out what to do with eleven holes of a former golf course.
A New Vision for Grey Park
Grey Park, which sits across from the Albany Care facility on Main Street and stretches up to Ridge Avenue, will be the focus of a visioning process for design and redevelopment. Belén Ayestarán of the newly formed Evanston Parks Coalition told the committee that in looking to fundraise it is essential that the Coalition can show potential supporters that the City supports the project. The Committee agreed.
Township Frustrates Committee
The Evanston Township budget, and in fact the Township itself, continued to frustrate the committee such that it was forwarded to Council with no recommendation. Former Township Assessor Sharon Eckersall, at citizen comment, said that the Assessor’s budget included more money for salaries than its entire budget when she was assessor. She called for a freeze on all salary increases. She said the annual budget during the last years of her tenure was about $86,000 and the current proposed budget includes over $90,000 in salaries for three employees.
Ald. Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, criticized the proposed salary increases. “I have a real issue with a 15 percent increase in staff’s salary in anybody’s budget,” she said, particularly when the City is laying off employees and most places 4 percent is the highest increase anyone can get.
Ald. Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, asked about the amount of time the deputy assessor spent assisting Brinshore Development in lowering its taxes. Assessor Bonnie Wilson said that she did not know because she was not there every day, but she did witness a phone call that lasted about 20 minutes one day. Ald. Fiske then asked about the Deputy Assessor’s writing letters to mortgage companies on behalf of residents in an effort to get escrow payments reduced. Assessor Wilson said she did not know if the prior assessor provided such a service but she knew that other Assessor’s offices did so.
Ald. Grover reiterated her concern over the amount of money the Township spends on administrative expenses, saying that according to her analysis such expenses accounted for 37 percent of the budget. She said that a non-profit she’s involved in, with a similar total budget, spends about 19 percent on administrative costs and much of that goes toward fundraising. The Township has no fundraising or development costs yet spends nearly twice as much on administration.
“We are not a not-for-profit organization, we are a government,” said Township Supervisor Patricia Vance. “We have legislative mandates.” Administrative costs and staffing decisions are decisions for the Township Supervisor, she said.
The debate will doubtless continue at the June 13 City Council meeting, when the Township’s budget, including the Assessor’s budget, must be passed, under Illinois law.