City Council met as the Township Board for the Town of Evanston on May 29, seeking to take the next step after the community voted in March, by a resounding 67 percent margin, to continue efforts to dissolve the Township entirely. Faced with no clear path to accomplish the community’s mandate, the Board opted for a $25-$50,000 professional audit to determine what exactly the Township does.
Despite the passionate protests of some of the City’s most vocal critics, including Kevin O’Connor, Junad Rizki and Padma Rao, the results of the March 20, 2012, referendum showed that two thirds of Evanston voters want to continue pursuing Township dissolution. Unclear and contradictory Illinois law, under which the Constitution appears to provide one way for a Town to dissolve while a state law seems to provide a different path, stands in the way of making the voters’ preference a reality.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz presented several possible “operational next steps” to the Town Board. First, he wrote in a May 22, 2012, memo to the Town Board, the Town could continue efforts to get an answer from Springfield in the form of legislation. A new state law clearing up the discrepancies between the constitution and the code would provide a clear path.
Second, he wrote, “Staff could be directed to develop an [intergovernmental] agreement between the Township and City for the provision of Township services.” Included would be the provision of general assistance, the relief of last resort for the poorest Evanstonians. Currently, general assistance in the Town provides about $400 a month for qualified clients. “The Township would no longer have any appointed staff and all services would be provided as determined by the City,” according to the memo. This option would likely require the cooperation of Township Supervisor Pat Vance.
Third, the City and Town could continue down the current path of informal intergovernmental cooperation. “City staff, the Township Supervisor and the Township Assessor continue to discuss ways for the City and Township to work together to allow the Township to save money on administrative expenses,” the memo stated. The memo characterized current discussions as “preliminary.” Town administrative expenses make up nearly 50 percent of the Town budget, a frequent target of criticism by Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, among others. Ald. Grover did not attend the May 29 meeting.
Fourth, according to the memo, “The Town Board could decline to direct the staff to any further action on this matter.” The fourth recommendation, in the face of the referendum results, was never considered by the Town Board.
The first was never seriously considered, either. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said that the state Township lobby, which she described as “a huge group of mostly white men lunching” and lobbying against any changes to Township structure, was simply too powerful to overcome. No one expected to get any results from Springfield, she said, and, the contradictory state law will remain a puzzle for some other township to attempt to solve.
The debate focused on options 2 and 3, with the Board breaking, broadly speaking, into two camps. Ald. Rainey and Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, supported option two, while Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward and Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, pushed for option 3.
A motion to pursue option 3 failed by a 3-5 vote.
Ald. Rainey’s position included an amendment to option two, adding an operational audit, to be conducted by an outside firm, which would inform the Board of exactly what the Township does. “I believe that most of [the Town Board does not] know how the Township functions,” she said. An audit will reveal what they do and how they do it, she said.
At Ald. Holmes’ suggestion, Ald. Rainey withdrew her motion seeking to follow option 2, and instead moved that “prior to proceeding” with any of the options, the Board commission “a service audit at the Township to determine the services provided.” The motion passed unanimously.
Speaking at the Human Services Committee meeting on June 4, City Manager Bobkiewicz said he expected the audit to cost between $25,000 and $50,000. Requests for proposal should go out in the summer and responses will return to the Town Board “before August recess,” he said. The Board will then determine who pays for the audit – City or Town.
Thereafter, the Town Board, and the City, will know what it is that the Township does.