On what Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl declared “Melissa Wynne Day,” complete with framed proclamation in honor of the Third-Ward alderman’s efforts to successfully encourage Trader Joe’s to open in Evanston, Council dealt with few issues regarding any new economic development in the City. Instead, audits, bikes, the ever-argued-over library and arrest-booking fees were highlights.
Council voted to retain auditor Baker Tilly for another four years, despite the fact that keeping the same auditor for eight years running is questionable as far as “best practices” go. Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons noted several factors that led to the re-selection of Baker Tilly over others: first, a short fiscal year; second, an expected change in accounting software; third, a rotation in Baker Tilly staff assigned to Evanston; and fourth, the fact that the second-choice respondent had no cities the size of Evanston on its client roster.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, first questioned best practices, then said, “I just think eight years is a long time for an auditor. … I understand why we’re using them… but I think eight years is a long time.”
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz placed the onus on the City more than on the auditor, saying staff engagement was key. Staff should ask the auditors to take a different look at processes and the books. Regardless, he said, eight years is the limit: “At the end of this period, we have to find a new auditor. Eight years is the absolute max.”
Council accepted staff’s year-end financial report, with a little praise from the Administration and Public Works committee. Ald. Rainey praised Mr. Lyons, interim finance manager Louis Gergits and management analyst Brandon Dieter. She said, “There was something a little different here and I think you did a great job. It was easier to read, … a lot friendlier, and it made a lot of sense.” The report can be found at http://www.cityofevanston.org/assets/CAFR%20FY10-11.pdf.
A pilot project for a bike corral in front of the Evanston Athletic Club failed to get the support of the Administrative and Public Works Committee despite general approval of the concept. The committee acknowledged the problem: Bikes latched to parking meters at times obstruct the sidewalks, and there are no or very few bike racks within a block of the EAC. The corral concept was held up over concerns about loss of parking revenue, EAC contribution and location.
The corral would take up two parking spaces in order to provide room for 12 to 14 bikes, said Suzette Robinson, director of Public Works. She estimated the loss of revenue would be about $6,000 a year.
When told that EAC had not been approached for a contribution to offset the revenue loss, Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said, “I can’t understand why we didn’t ask that question.” She then asked why the corral could not be moved slightly south into an area where there is no current parking, directly in front of the Second Baptist Church.
Ms. Robinson noted three reasons that that space would not be a good location for the bike corral: First, there is a fire hydrant on the corner. Second, the area is necessary as a turning radius for trucks exiting the alley. Third, hearses occupy the space when the church holds a funeral, and on Sundays some congregants are dropped off there on their way in to church. The pilot project stalled.
A request by Ald. Rainey that the police department assess a “booking fee” of $30 against offenders fell flat with Chief of Police Richard Eddington. “This is a unique clientele we’re talking about,” he said. “The type of individual being booked is not the type likely to pay such a fee unless ordered to by a Skokie judge.” The Chief’s memo noted that only 25 percent of curfew tickets are paid now, and other collection rates are similarly poor. One exception was cellphone usage tickets, a fact Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, seized upon.
“I’m taking up some time to point out the high collection rate on cellphone tickets,” she said. Offenders know it is wrong and they should not have been talking while driving, she added, and therefore they pay.
“I have another theory,” said Ald. Rainey. Tickets go primarily to upper-middle-class offenders who can afford to pay the fine, she said.
Finally, the Library Board’s autonomy from the City Council’s budgetary restrictions reached completion, but not without a close call. Two weeks ago, the measure was introduced easily by a 7-1 vote. The final vote, though, was 5-4, with Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, joining Aldermen Holmes, Rainey and Burrus. While state law provides for separate taxation by an unelected library board, aldermen were still uncomfortable with the concept. “This is another example of a Springfield mandate that doesn’t make sense in its implementation,” Ald. Wilson told the RoundTable in a separate interview.
Ald. Rainey said the close vote, 5-4, should give everyone pause. “This is a huge change,” she said. “I think the City Manager should reconsider.” For now, the Library Board controls its own budget – and levies taxes to set its revenue stream.