Meeting on Tueday night instead of the traditional Monday night due to the Memorial Day holiday, Council faced an unusually hostile crowd. Town issues, budget concerns and other smaller matters combined to create a tense and altogether unpleasant evening.
The evening started with a fire station mechanical systems improvement project. Fire Station 1 was built in 1998, and at the time, “[d]ue to value engineering efforts, the existing mechanical systems installed … were of residential grade [and have] exceeded their useful life expectancy and require replacement before failure.”
“Did we really allow for the installation of residential mechanicals in the fire station? Did we really?” asked Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.
“The short answer is, yes, we did,” said Paul D’Agostino, Director of Parks/Forestry and Facilities.
“Well, I certainly apologize for voting for that,” said Ald. Rainey. The repair project, which includes boiler and chimney repairs at Fire Station 2, will cost more than $285,000.
The transition of the Library from City control to the Library Board showed growing pains with the renewal of a reference database license. The license renewal extends through April 30, 2013 – beyond the Dec. 31, 2012, date on which the City loses control.
Ald Rainey asked why the license term did not end on Dec. 31. Karen Danczak Lyons, the new Library director, said the longer term allowed for much better pricing. Marty Lyons, the City’s CFO, said that the contract all comes from the library fund and control over that fund is what really shifts at year end. The contract passed, but it is clear that the separation of the Library from the City will bring more and more similar issues to light in the coming months.
The Ward Eight wine bar, in the City-owned building at 631 Howard St., cleared another hurdle as Council granted it a liquor license. Confusion briefly ensued at Council when Ald. Rainey’s request to suspend the rules initially failed with 4th Ward Alderman Don Wilson’s, “no” vote. Ald. Wilson said he had voted in error, and the matter passed when he urged reconsideration. Suspension of the rule requiring two readings passed, and the liquor license was granted. The bar’s co-owner, Ann Carlson, said she hoped to be open in August.
The Administration and Public Works Committee spent more than 30 minutes discussing the City’s policy on banners.
The City installs and removes banners from light poles for certain organizations, charging a nominal fee. The organizations buy the banners, then the City puts them up and takes them down.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, expressed outrage that the City did not cover costs in providing this service. The item is minimal enough that it does not appear on the City’s budget.
The Committee could not resolve the issue, but sent it back to staff for reworking of both fees and who should be allowed to place banners in the first place – organizations, businesses, business associations, or neighborhood groups. This item will return to an eager Council soon.
Citizen Comment furthered the sour mood in Council chambers, as Kevin O’Connor lashed out at the City, threatening legal action and saying, “I am coming to get you.”
The Town meeting gave angry citizens two opportunities to rant, and several, Mr. O’Connor included, took advantage of the opportunity to berate and threaten. Dr. Padma Rao and her mother, B.K. Rao, renewed their repetitive opposition to the loss of any trees on the former Kendall property.
The mood improved by June 4, when the Rules Committee welcomed the National Champion Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse team to Chambers. Northwestern has won seven of the last eight national championships. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl declared June 4, 2012, “Northwestern University Women’s Lacrosse National Championship Day.”
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, took the opportunity to praise not only the Northwestern team, but women’s athletics in general. “Things have changed in those 35 years” since Title IX, the law banning sex discrimination in athletic programs in high schools, colleges and universities nationwide, was passed. “You shine a good light on women’s athletics,” she told the team.