For nearly two years, Dr. Padma Rao has appeared at Evanston City Council meetings to complain about the potential loss of some 20 trees on private property – the former Kendall College site between Colfax and Lincoln streets.
At the Feb. 25 meeting, she refused to leave the lectern used for citizen comment. Other citizens hoping to participate in citizen comment were forced to speak using the microphone of First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske, to the far right of the dais.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, has several times offered to meet with Dr. Rao and her mother, B.K. Rao, to discuss their complaints and offer solutions.
The response, reiterated Monday night, has always been, quite simply, “I do not want to talk to you.” She equated Ald. Grover’s efforts to mediate with “intimidation, tantrums and harassment.”
The complaints, repeated at many meetings, center upon the planned subdivision of the Kendall College property so as to allow for the construction of single-family homes on the site.
If the homes are ever built – the project has been stalled and undergone owner changes ever since it was approved – some of the trees will have to be removed to make way for homes.
In an effort to save as many trees as possible the City proposed, and the developer agreed, to a change in a proposed alley within the project. Several trees will be spared as a result.
How much leverage the City actually had in requiring a private-property owner to preserve trees is subject to question.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl has ruled the Kendall matter out of order because the matter has already been voted upon and is no longer in Council’s jurisdiction.
Similarly, ethical complaints raised by the Raos have been investigated by the City’s ethics committee and ruled upon, making them out of order as well, the Mayor said.
Council members have discussed changing Council’s rules to further limit citizen comment (right now it is limited to 45 minutes with each speaker getting a maximum of three minutes) or shifting comments to the end of the meeting, after business has concluded.
To date they have rejected such changes, though on Monday night Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey proposed suspending the rules just for the night and shifting citizen comment to the end of the meeting. Her proposal failed.
After ruling Dr. Rao out of order for repeatedly addressing topics that were outside Council’s jurisdiction, Mayor Tisdahl turned off the microphone Dr. Rao was using at the lectern and asked the next speaker to approach. Dr. Rao remained at the lecturn.
As the situation continued to escalate, Council called for a recess and the aldermen filed out into the hallway. Ald. Grover invited residents in Council chambers to speak with Dr. Rao, and several took her up on the invitation. One person asked, “Can I just have my chance to speak for three minutes?”