The blowing snow and sub-zero wind chill on Nov. 17 delayed the arrival of some aldermen and guests to the City Council meeting, but awards, proclamations and the appearance of Mini Abe kept the mood light for most of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting.
In addition to congratulating the young plow-blade painters, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl proclaimed Nov. 17 “Perennials Day” in Evanston, honoring the gift shop on Central Street that has been in business for 25 years, the last 20 of them in Evanston. She also proclaimed November “Child Care Center of Evanston” month, in honor of the 70th anniversary of the center, which has “education as its highest priority.”
A Visit From Mini Abe
Gina Speckman of the North Shore Convention and Tourism Bureau introduced Mini Abe, the promotional mascot doll of the Illinois Office of Tourism. Evanston will be in the spotlight for the next week, she said, and Mini Abe will be there – chaperoned, of course – visiting many local shops and restaurants and attending the tree-lighting ceremony in Fountain Square and, before that, the Illinois-Northwestern football game, now called the Land of Lincoln game.
Seeing reporters taking photos of Ms. Speckman and Mini Abe, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz got in the act, taking photos of the doll with Mayor Tisdahl, then with each of the reporters and, finally, with the eight aldermen – Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam was absent – at the meeting. Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover then took a photo of Mr. Bobkiewicz and Mini Abe. Twitter may soon be, well, atwitter with these photos.
Entrepreneurship Week Activities
Paul Zalmezak, economic development coordinator for the City, described some of the events this week, as Evanston joined Global Entrepreneurship Week, a celebration of jobs and creators in 50 countries. The Startup Showcase on Nov. 18 allowed owners of startup companies to pitch their ideas to a panel. Nov. 19 was Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, with a gathering at Now We’re Cookin’ on Payne Street. Plans for today, Nov. 20, were a tour of Evanston’s breweries and an intercollegiate hackathon at Northwestern University.
Five people spoke during Citizen Comment. Junad Rizki said he believed the present system is “not fiscally responsible or the way to run a budget,” because there is money for at least two projects not yet fully discussed in public: a study for a new Robert Crown Center and one for a water reservoir to replace the present one on Northwestern University property. The University would like the City to replace it, he has said, but the only study he has seen proposes only a new cover, at a cost of about $6 million, rather than a full replacement. He said the Council is trying to “back-door approve a $30 million reservoir.”
Lauren Barski said she felt there has not been sufficient public input on the redesign of Penny Park. She said she is looking forward to community meetings where everyone can give input to the design, which she said he hopes will take place in the new year.
The two women who work in the Vital Records office in the Civic Center said they objected to the new proposal for next year that would have only one staff member in vital records and would transfer the other to the General Assistance department. A proposal in the first tentative budget would have eliminated the office entirely, but objections by Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes prompted the new proposal. “There is a misconception that all Vital Records does is issue birth and death records. There is a lot of paperwork behind the scenes, such as [issuing] adoption papers and correcting hospital errors,” said Georgina Starling.
Michael Tannen, president of the Library Board, spoke of the progress the Library has made over the past five years, when the City wished to close both branches of the Library and in fact closed the South Branch. “The Library has become a place for civic engagement, literacy and life-long learning. It is the ‘third space’ and a public space,” he said. The Library’s levy is responsible for 1.25% increase in the City’s portion of the property tax bill – which is about 20% of the overall property tax bill. About $300,000 of that proposed increase is for Affordable care Act expenses, wages and benefit adjustments, he said. The Library receives about $67 per capita, he said, as compared with Oak Park, which receives $173 per capita.
Divvy Bikes Disappoint Two
With some discussion, Council authorized City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to negotiate an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Chicago to implement the Divvy Bike Program. Earlier this year, Governor Pat Quinn announced that the State would invest $3 million in that bike-sharing program. The location of Evanston’s stations, each outfitted with 10 bicycles and having the capacity for seven additional bikes, is still being determined.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, asked about the cost of the Divvy bike-sharing program. The $75 annual membership allows unlimited half-hour rides between stations. Using a bike for additional time incurs increasing costs. She said she would support the program but remained wary of the costs.
The Council vote was 7-1. Fourth Ward Alderman Don Wilson, was the sole “no” vote. Known to be an avid biker, Ald. Wilson acknowledged that his vote might surprise some. “When I first heard the idea, I was really excited. … [but] … I am disappointed with it. I find the cost to be outrageous, and the fact that there [will be] trucks driving the bikes around [from station to station]” did not make it seem like a truly sustainable program. He said he understood that no adjustment is possible.
Catherine Hurley, sustainable programs coordinator for the City, gave a preview of how the City would prepare residents and businesses for the ban on plastic shopping bags, to be implemented in mid-summer. A combination of “education and access,” she said, will help residents acquire reusable bags – some, new or used, will be donated by residents to a collection/disbursement center. Businesses will be informed about what is expected of them and they will share with the City how they plan to implement the ordinance. Residents can expect a mini-rollout during Earth Week.