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City Council voted 8-1 Monday Night, April 1, to form a commission dedicated to all problems weather related: snow plowing, flooding, beach closings, power outages and school closings. Council public announced that the City sought volunteers to make up the board, particularity seeking anyone with meteorological or public safety backgrounds to lend expertise to the unpaid group.
The Weather Board will be designed to spring into action whenever a qualified weather event appears on the forecast, gauging the seriousness of the event and recommending a City response. According to the City’s snow czar Pearl Le Blanc, whose duties expanded last year to include thunderstorm and flood response, the City plans then to completely ignore whatever advice the new committee delivers.
The RoundTable, under the guise of an interviewee for a staff position, sat with Ms. LeBlanc shortly after the vote creating the Weather Board was taken. When asked about the powers of the new Board, Ms. LeBlanc playfully tapped this reporter on the knee, eyes shifting side to side and a sly grin emerging, and said, “You don’t really expects us to pay any attention to what they say, do you?”
The City has long relied on a community of engaged, experienced volunteers to advise City Council on matters that Council does not have time to fully study. “We have a lot on our plate,” said a Council member at a recent meeting. “These people only study one thing,” the speaker added, referring to another committee. “Why shouldn’t we listen to them?”
Things seem to have changed of late, though. “Look at the Ladd Arboretum Committee,” said Ms. LeBlanc. “All they do is oversee that little park along McCormick. They recommend something for the park, and of course we ignore them. Too expensive. We would have lost a grant. Deal with it!”
“It wasn’t just them,” added our reporter. “The Evanston Environmental Association, who oversees the Ecology center, also recommended a gravel path!”
Ms. LeBlanc broke out in devious laughter at the suggestion. “Two for one!” she cackled.
Asked why anyone would ever volunteer time for the City if all their work would be simply ignored, Ms. LeBlanc leaned in closer, eyes widening, “We need to keep our citizens engaged. They need to feel good.
“Look at the Plan Commission,” she said. “They meet longer and perhaps work harder than anyone. Yet everyone knows all developers have to do is tell the Plan Commission what they want to hear, get the permit, then wait a while and amend the plan to reflect what they wanted to do all along. Look at Central Street, Emerson, Focus on Ridge – all those plans changed. No need to go back to Plan Commission. Council did its job by making the community feel for a while as though they had input. That’s what matters!
“Oh, and the poor saps on the Preservation Committee. Can anyone say, ‘Northwestern’? You can say that just as quickly as ‘overruled’!” added Ms. LeBlanc. “Did anyone really believe something as powerless as the Preservation Committee could get in the way of a new Visitors’ Center? Please.”
“Why form a Weather Board anyway?” asked our fake interviewee.
“People have been complaining about snow plowing and school closings,” said Ms. LeBlanc. “This way, they’ll think they have some say. Hey, we may even give them a little say, then take it away. Look at the Mental Health Board. They used to have some decision-making authority, but we’re taking that away. The City knows best!”
“There’s always the Board of Ethics, right?” said the RoundTable.
A shrill guffaw of glee erupted from Ms. LeBlanc. “They’ve reprimanded me – ME! – no less than six times! I am hoping for an even dozen before I retire. Think I can get it? Think they have any power?”
The Weather Board would report directly to no particular department because weather affects every City function. That adds to the mystique, said Ms. LeBlanc.
“It’s rather like how the City uses consultants,” she said. “If we don’t like one consultant’s report, we’ll simply pay for another study. And so on. Until we get the report we like. Look at the James Park methane – four consultant studies. The water reservoir – is it three or four consultants? I lose track. Oh my!”
Perhaps the Weather Board’s most important charge is number six on a list of 12 tasks – the power to actually control the weather. “That’s as much real influence as they will actually have,” said Ms. LeBlanc. “They will have exactly as much say in City policy as they will in controlling storm clouds.”