City Council started off with celebrations Monday night, Feb. 10, then moved on through former landfills, local employment, water pipes and donation boxes. With a backdrop of supporters of the Evanston Arts Center filling chambers, the regular business of the City felt almost drowned out.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl began the regular meeting by congratulating Oceanique restaurant on its 25 anniversary. Chef and owner Mark Grosz called the milestone “quite mind-boggling and humbling at the same time.” He said he landed in Evanston “kind of by accident” after answering a newspaper ad. The restaurant opened at 505 Main St. on on Feb. 5, 1989. Prior to Oceanique, Chef Grosz said, he had never held a job for more than two years.

Further good news came from Director of Public Works Suzette Robinson, who announced that the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District recently agreed in principle to provide a $750,000 grant toward the reconstructed Civic Center parking lot to be completed in the fall. The project is expected to cost a total of $870,000, so the grant will cover most of it. The new lot will be a “green parking lot” said Ms. Robinson, with permeable surfaces and other amenities.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said, “There’s a ‘rest of the story’ here.” He explained that the MWRD contacted the City and asked them to apply. It seems that other jurisdictions had to return grant money because their projects were not ready. Evanston had the parking lot project on the shelf and ready to go. Those expecting to attend City meetings in the fall should probably plan on riding their bikes.

Council approved a not-to-exceed contract for $32,000 for an environmental consulting project in James Park. According to City Attorney Grant Farrar, the project qualifies as “customary due diligence.” Given the non-sanctioned sledding and other activity that takes place on Mt. Trashmore, said Mr. Farrar, core drillings into the former landfill were a necessary precautionary matter.

Mr. Bobkiewicz said the proposal showed “the City of Evanston being proactive.” Core samples have not been taken since 1986. Locations for the core drillings will be determined when weather permits.

The staff memo showed no evidence of any problems, such as methane leaking at the park. Resident activist Junad Rizki smelled a problem in the lack of detail in the staff material, saying, “If staff doesn’t provide me with information, I can assume a lot of things.”

Evanston Businesses and Employees Issue

A tire repair contract and a change order to the Davis Street sewer project highlighted the challenges presented by the City’s efforts to promote local businesses and local hiring when contracting for goods and services.

The $25,000 tire contract went to a Bensenville company because, according to the staff memo, “There are no Evanston-based tire service vendors who can meet all of our fleet needs at this time.” Another memo added, “Tire repair services preclude subcontracting opportunities,” making the contract exempt from MWEBE requirements.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2d Ward, who also chairs the MWEBE Committee, asked, “Why can’t we find one local business here in town fixing tires?”

The answer, according to fleet manager Lonnie Jeschke, is price. “What we’re looking for here under this bid is a volume discount. No local business can provide that at our price point.”

The Davis Street contract with Bolder Contractors showed another side of the issue. Bolder submitted a change order seeking an additional $69,000, but the bill was held at Ald. Braithwaite’s request because of Bolder’s failure to comply with Evanston’s Local Employment Program requiring them to hire at least one Evanston resident.

In reviewing the issue, City staff determined, per the staff memo, that “Bolder personnel stated specifically to City staff at the approximate halfway point [measured in project weeks] that they would pay the fine associated with non-compliance and would not look for an actual LEP candidate.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “It looks like this company was happy to pay [the fine]. That was their intention all along.”

Collecting fines is not the intent of the program, said Ald. Braithwaite. “We want to drive compliance, not fine businesses,” he said. A fine of $100 per day for 90 days does little to improve the employment situation in Evanston.

Alderman Coleen Burrus said that money collected through LEP fines should go toward workforce training programs or similar uses in furtherance of the central goal of the LEP – to employ Evanstonians. No one on staff or Council seemed to know where fine money went, and indications were that little if any money had been collected at all prior to the Bolder fine.

Staff materials indicated that the MWEBE committee planned to issue a report suggesting changes to the program. Changes will likely affect both the LEP program and smaller dollar contracts such as the tire-repair contract, as well as establishing a fund for fine money and identifying its uses.

Water Towers to be Painted

Council discussed whether to add City of Evanston logos to Evanston’s two standpipe water towers when they are repainted in the next two years. Director of Utilities Dave Stonebeck said that the City hired a consultant in November to assist with preparing the painting proposal. The cost of adding logos, he said, would be between $6,000 and $18,000 per logo.

Council debated which logo to include, a particular problem given the fact that Council is currently discussing changing the City’s logo. A schism of sorts developed on Council, with Ald. Burrus and others saying that the just-plain painted word “Evanston” “looked like a prison” water tower. Aldermen Delores Holmes, 5th Ward (texting from her home where she was recuperating after surgery), and Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said the City should stick with just the word because “the word ‘Evanston’ will not change.”

Regardless of the ultimate Council decision, the logo painting will be a proverbial drop in the standpipe when taken as part of the entire painting project. The towers, last painted in 1996 and 1997, will cost about $2.75 million to paint. Mr. Bobkiewicz said the requests for bids, expected to go out within the next two months, will include three options – plain, text “Evanston,” and logo.

Tom Sawyers, buckets and brushes in hand, are lining up already.

Two New Restaurants

A City Council meeting, of late, would not be complete without the announcement of new restaurants coming to town. Just Turkey, a new restaurant specializing in (not surprisingly) turkey dishes, will be coming to the 2430 Main St. behind the new Food for Less gas station. The menu will include all things turkey, including lasagna, burgers, “Italian beef” and others. Council suspended the rules and approved the new business without requiring it to wait another two weeks.

Asia Express is coming to 1009 Davis St., the long-vacant former home of Sir Speedy Printing.

New Fire Alarms

The fire department will be getting a new alarm tone system, realizing one of Fire Chief Greg Klaiber’s goals since he took the position. The new Emergency Tone Alerting System will replace the current ear-splitting alarm installed about 40 years ago.

Chief Klaiber was not alone in calling the current tone “piercing,” as several aldermen who have heard it readily agreed. The new system will ramp up in tone, getting progressively louder, until the firehouse acknowledges receipt. Receipt can be acknowledged from a laptop computer or tablet rather than from the station radio, resulting in improved response time, said the Chief.

The old system will stay in place as a redundant backup.