At the June 23 City Council meeting, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz reported no progress in talks with C.A.R.E. regarding the disposition of funds raised and held by C.A.R.E. in Evanston, and offered City Council three alternatives. One was to drop the matter, the second was to “direct the corporation council to take legal action to further pursue the matter,” and the third was to provide information and cooperation to the Illinois Attorney General in her inquiry into this matter.” Council unanimously elected the third option.
In May, the City severed its relationship with C.A.R.E., the Community Animal Rescue Effort, an all-volunteer organization charged with running the City’s animal shelter. The City has taken over managing volunteers and supervising day- to-day operations.
One issue left unresolved is the disposition of C.A.R.E.’s “building fund,” about $1.3 million collected by C.A.R.E. over the past decade or so specifically for a new animal shelter. A number of residents argue that the money was raised specifically for a new or renovated animal shelter in Evanston, and as result C.A.R.E. should turn over all or part of the fund to the City. C.A.R.E. takes the position that it raised the money and it belongs to them.
Prior to June 23, Mr. Bobkiewicz engaged in conversations with C.A.R.E. in an effort to reach a settlement as to the split of the building fund. Several weeks ago he reported at least a glimmer of hope that an agreement could be reached.
That glimmer was completely extinguished at the June 23 meeting. “No resolution has been made,” he said. “I believe that we will not see any progress.” C.A.R.E., he said, “is not interested in meaningful dialogue.” The City is “at the point of making some decisions.”
The Council packet included a letter from the Attorney General to a private citizen who initiated a complaint with the AG’s charitable donations division. “We are in the process of reviewing this matter to determine whether and to what extent this Office can take action,” the letter read. At issue is whether C.A.R.E. solicited donations for an Evanston shelter and plans now to use that money outside of Evanston.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, made a motion that the City “choose option 3 as our course of action. … I would prefer to have the money for the shelter,” he added. It would be “more desirable to have something worked out,” a settlement agreement reached, he said.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, who owns and manages a pet-supply store, said that while she did not disagree with cooperating with the Attorney General, she did think C.A.R.E.’s fundraising presented some questions. She cited a fund-raising campaign seeking money using the catchphrase, “We don’t want a mansion, just an expansion” of the Evanston Animal Shelter.
Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar said that while the City could “issue a demand for the return” of some or all of the C.A.R.E. building fund, “I believe there are some problems with that course of action.” Calling it a “jurisdictional issue,” he said it is “prudent for units of local government not to cross jurisdictional boundaries in matters” such as the C.A.R.E. issue that are in the jurisdictional hands of the State’s Attorney General.
There was no significant support for the City’s taking direct action. “My hope is that Lisa Madigan [the Attorney General] will determine there is no jurisdiction, and I think we should drop it. … I have no doubt that any money raised by C.A.R.E. will go to help animals. I’m sure if you wrote to C.A.R.E. and demanded your $100 or $500 [donation] you’d get it back,” said Ald. Rainey.
Council voted unanimously to select the third option, and will cease all efforts to recoup donations made to C.A.R.E.. The City will instead cooperate in whatever way possible with the investigation initiated by the Attorney General under the State’s charitable-giving laws. The C.A.R.E. issue, for all intents and purposes, has come to an end as far as the City of Evanston is concerned.
“There is nothing wrong with being proactive,” said Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward. But now, “we are closing the books as far as what the City can do.”