An unusually palpable tension filled the air Monday night, July 13, as City Council continued to wrestle with expected but not yet official cuts in the State payments to local governments promised by Governor Bruce Rauner.
In part, said John Fuller, who spoke at Public Comment, the tension arose from alleged retaliation against employees who spoke out at the combined Second and Fifth ward meeting on June 11.
The RoundTable learned that at least two employees, who will not be named out of privacy concerns, were accused by City staff of using drugs while on the job. The accusations proved groundless and led to concerns that the City retaliates against those who speak up in public.
Mr. Fuller, president of the Evanston/North Shore chapter of the NAACP, read from a statement by George Mitchell, Illinois NAACP president. The letter indicated that Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl had responded in writing to NAACP demands regarding the retaliation incident.
“Thank you for your quick response to our letter” concerning the alleged “retaliation,” said Mr. Fuller. The incident, however, “remains unresolved,” he continued, saying there were “significant differences” in the facts between the City’s version and the employees’ version.
Dan Coyne, one of the candidates for the recent Ninth Ward aldermanic vacancy ultimately filled by Brian Miller, cited the “current NAACP complaint” in a passionate speech in which he also called for a new City Manager, among other things. He asked for a meeting with City officials to discuss City issues. His comments received applause from the crowd.
“I’d be happy to meet with you, Mr. Coyne, and give you some facts,” said Mayor Tisdahl, somewhat angrily. As a whole, City Council seemed taken aback by the tenor of the meeting. Several commented afterward about the “weird” or “strange” nature of the meeting, particularly about Mr. Coyne’s comments.
The tension is not likely to dissipate any time soon. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has called for an across-the-board 2% cut to all departments in preparation for the expected cut in State contributions and the current lack of a state budget – with recommendations to be submitted by departments on or before Aug. 4. (See accompanying story.)
The State budget issue came up several times during the meeting, from the boat ramp project to the Central Street sidewalk project and beyond.
The City Manager’s transition team is working on a proposed reorganization of all City departments. Concern about that was the primary focus of the comments by the outspoken employees at the June 11 joint ward meeting.
The team is scheduled to make its recommendations next month. A full City Council chambers indicates that people are watching closely.
At the call of the wards, Aldermen Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, made a reference to the Human Services Committee for a re-examination of the City’s drug use policy. The reference was made in response to the allegations that the outspoken employees had been tested in retaliation for their speech.