Evanston City Council deals with a wide variety of issues every meeting, and you never know where controversy might erupt. The meetings of May 14 and 21 proved the rule, as council tackled the performing arts, economic development, home businesses and other issues, and the color of fire hydrants may have created the largest controversy of the meetings.

Fire hydrants came up as Council approved a contract with Chicago’s Alpha Paintworks to repaint fire hydrants at a cost of $24,140. The contract sparked controversy on two levels. First, Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, proposed expanding the “paint the town purple” program to include all Evanston fire hydrants and not just those near the Northwestern campus.

“This may be an opportunity to expand efforts to ‘purplize’ fire hydrants,” said Ald. Grover. She spoke with Northwestern’s athletic department, and they might be willing to contribute, she added. Only the most savvy observers would make the connection between the purple hydrants and the meaning of purple in hydrology circles –non-potable water.

“I think it would be a mistake to paint all hydrants purple,” said Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward. “The red fire hydrant is a classic American icon.”

“We need to figure out what our color is here in Evanston,” said Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward. It may or may not be purple, she said.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that the default color would be red, and the agenda item was for red hydrants. Any change to purple will have to come later.

“I never thought this would be the item” leading to lengthy discussion, said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, before adding another layer of controversy. Her issue was with the Minority-owned, Woman-owned, Evanston-Based Enterprise (MWEBE) waiver attached to the contract. “We have hundreds of painters in this town. They should have gotten this contract.” Instead, the contract included a waiver exempting it from the MWEBE program, which is designed to give priority to Evanston based enterprises.

The program, however, applies to subcontractors hired by general contractors. Because the paint contract did not include any subcontracted work, a waiver was granted. Ald. Rainey referred the matter to the MWEBE committee saying that the City needed to find a way to award these contracts to Evanston businesses and stop granted waivers like this. The bidders were from Chicago and Villa Park, not Evanston.

City Council, with out any discussion and on the consent agenda, approved another $100,000 downtown arts center study. This time, an architectural firm will “conduct a detailed planning and architectural study of potential locations for performing arts venues in Downtown Evanston” according to staff materials. The study joins at least two others in recent years covering the same topic. Funding comes half from the City and half from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The study will be a part of City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz’s “Roadmap for the Arts,” a proposal presented at the May 21 meeting. Plans include bringing arts organizations and other parties together to collaborate and create a vision for the future of arts in Evanston. “I don’t want us always to model the best practice, I want us to BE the best practice,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz. Evanston should not only rival Palo Alto, Austin, Cambridge and other cities in devotion to the arts, but do so in a way that is uniquely Evanston.

The Evanston Community Foundation, the City’s Arts Council, arts organizations, the City, and other private entities should be involved in creating the road map. Expect news and announcements in the future.

The Emerson Square Development continues to progress. Council approved a measure that will result in the purchase of 1600 Foster, the Bishop Freeman property, as part of the NSP II project at Emerson Square. The cost is $1.5 million, which comes out of the $18.15 million awarded for the project by the federal government. Included in the budget is an environmental remediation of various chemical compounds consistent with manufacturing practices. The budgeted cost of remediation will be $800,000 to $1.2 million, and that amount is already accounted for according to David Brint of Brinshore Development – the developer building the project.

Parking in your front yard is rare in Evanston, but an exception may be near for a home on Lincolnwood. Ald. Tendam said that he studied the project and that there is no good way to park elsewhere given the lack of alley access and the lot configuration. The homeowner wants to convert an existing garage into living space and move parking to the front yard. But Ald. Tendam’s suggestion that Council suspend the rules requiring two readings and pass the variance immediately failed with Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st ward, objected. Suspension of the rules requires a unanimous vote. The neighbors should have one more chance the weigh in, said Ald. Fiske.

Two crusty veteran topics returned, only to wait further amendment. A proposal seeking to limit home based businesses passed out of committee but will return for further amendment. Likewise, the bed and breakfast amendments passed, but will return to planning and development after further amendment. Look for further developments in the coming weeks.

An ordinance increasing one day liquor license fees from $100 to $150 in most cases passed by a narrow 5-4 vote. Ald. Grover urged a no vote, saying that many entities getting such passes were small not-for-profits. But Ald. Rainey urged a yes vote, saying that one-day licenses allowed the non-profits to sell liquor. They can increase prices to cover the added fee. Ald. Rainey prevails. Staff estimates the change will add a bit under $3,000 to City coffers.

Chicken and Waffles are coming to Dempster as Council passed a package of economic development loans for the new restaurant. Theloans total $200,000 for the adaptive reuse of a building at 2424 Dempster.

Council approved a resolution urging a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizen’s United. The resolution seeks a change in current law that essentially equates corporations and other organization with persons capable of protected free speech, and equates spending money by contributing to political campaigns with free speech.

Finally, Constellation Energy appeared before Council to announce progress on electricity aggregation. Residents and small businesses should be given the option of opting out of the plan soon. The lower power rates for those who stay in the program should hit in late July or early August.