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At the April 23 City Council meeting, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl closed the book on a saga of antagonism that had lasted for more than a year. For months two Evanston residents, Dr. Padma Rao and her mother, B. K. Rao, had spoken against what they considered potential wrongdoing to some trees on the privately owned former Kendall College property: The new owner might remove some very old trees in order to make room for the residences planned for the site. Both Dr. Rao and Ms. Rao urged the City to mandate that the developer save the trees.
The City urged the developer to save as many trees as possible, and reached a compromise that successfully saved and relocated many through creative alley configuration and plot manipulation. However, aldermen stated that they understood that the City had no control over the trees, and the Raos’ protests continued. And continued. And continued.
Finding no City Council support for their position, both Dr. Rao and Ms. Rao shifted their comments from the trees and began to accuse Council members and City staff of incompetence and unethical conduct. Every week, each woman began her comment with a statement that the content had been approved by her attorney, and each ended with “See y’all next time” and “I’ll be back.”
The City’s board of ethics cleared the sole alderman of the sole formal complaint lodged against her – a finding that essentially removed all the Kendall matters from City jurisdiction.
Since citizen comment at City Council meetings is limited to items over which the Council has jurisdiction, at the April 23 meeting, Mayor Tisdahl said, “As of tonight, the Kendall issue is over.” Those issues are no longer within the jurisdiction of the City Council, she said, and therefore Citizen Comment concerning those topics “will be ruled out of order. … We have listened [to comments on those issues] for over a year,” she said.
A few weeks ago, Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover invited Padma Rao and B.K. Rao to call her to arrange a time when they could sit and have coffee together. In the hallway after a meeting, the alderman reiterated her offer. Her offer appeared to be a genuine effort to try to resolve issues private citizens might have with City government. At the next citizen comment, Padma Rao characterized Ald. Grover’s invitation to have coffee as treating her “in a belligerent and bullying manner,” and said she had no interest in discussing anything with any Council member. Any communications should be through her attorney, she said.
Meanwhile the City Council members appear to hope that the Mayor’s enforcement of the Council rule limiting citizen comment to matters within the City’s jurisdiction will streamline Council meetings and facilitate concentration on City business.