Members of Evanston Own It present a check to Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.                  Photo from City of Evanston

 Council chambers once again filled with members of the black community concerned about possible City job losses, but the tension abated for at least a week as a little good news often helps. This time, the good news came from members of Evanston Own It – composed of members of the faith-based community, mostly from the Fifth Ward – who presented a $13,500 check to Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl for the Mayor’s summer youth initiative.

“Evanston Own It” was formed in response to a challenge from Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes to “own our community.” The group engaged residents and raised money through an Evanston Sings event in June. “We hope it will help this summer,” said the group’s spokesman, Pastor Zollie Webb of Friendship Baptist Church.

Joining the church leaders for a photo shoot were members of the City’s youth outreach department. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz called them back to acknowledge the “phenomenal work these young men and women do” that “largely go[es] unheralded…” They help “keep Evanston safe, but more importantly keep some young men and women on the right path. … I want to take this opportunity to thank you for all you do for Evanston.”

Council gave the five African American employees a standing ovation. The money raised by Evanston Own It will stay in the outreach department, said Mr. Bobkiewicz. Pastor Webb told people at the meeting to put the next Evanston Sings on their calendar as a new annual event has been born.

Mr. Bobkiewicz next announced a new City website under the “transparency” banner, “Trending Topics and Facts.” He personally thanked frequent City critic Junad Rizki for contributing to the site, designed to answer community questions and dispel inaccurate rumors. The site came at the suggestion of Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, who saw a similar site on another community’s website, he said. The first four topics now concern the Harley Clarke mansion, the Recycling Center sale, Evanston’s top 10 employers, and the James Park methane issue.

Acting further on the methane issue related to James Park, the Council voted to spend another $160,000 to pursue its lawsuit against Nicor and ComEd. That lawsuit seeks compensation for alleged methane and other contaminants in the James Park area. The expense came in the form of a change order to the Dodge water main project. The stated purpose of the change-order “safety and environmental regulations related to the project” according to the staff report; the measure passed on the consent agenda.

Mr. Bobkiewicz told members of the Administration and Public Works Committee that the change order came about out of “an abundance of caution as far as the legal matter more than anything. We feel our folks are safe. The purpose of this … is more from a legal perspective and evidence than anything else.”

Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar said that the City forced Nicor to preserve evidence when Nicor replaced cast iron pipes earlier this year and last, and Nicor now forced the City to preserve evidence. “Unfortunately there is a cost associated with that,” he said. “However, I would remind this committee and the full City Council … that the City takes the position that all of these costs are recoverable and reimbursable under the fee shifting provisions of the environmental statutes that are in play in this matter.” Other costs would  include the City’s first environmental study, about $60,000, its follow up study, about $40,000, and its third study conducted by a different consultant, $106.000.

The matter is scheduled for hearing on Nicor and ComEd’s joint motion to dismiss next week in Federal Court. As noted earlier, the City’s argument is that methane gas constitutes a solid under federal environmental regulations, and that Lowe process oil used at a Skokie gas manufacturing plant that closed 60 years ago migrated under the sanitary canal and over to Dodge Avenue where it now coats City water pipes and threatens to contaminate the water supply.

Another water project change order raised a different set of concerns, as an engineer’s report may have been flawed requiring a change order of over $150,000 to the water meter improvement contract. Mr. Rizki told the committee “somebody made a mistake.”

The City did not disagree. Dave Stoneback, the City’s director of utilities, said “this does involve an outside engineer [and] the City is still looking into whether or not to pursue reimbursement” for the additional work required.

The controversial Northwestern Visitors Center returned to Council, this time because the City now gets to spend the $173,000 contribution Northwestern made to replace the trees and the bird habitat destroyed in the construction of the new building. By all reports, the new bird sanctuary, which is slated to cost about $146,000, will be beautiful and functional. Once it is completed, the Visitors Center issue will be concluded.

Vinic Wine will be getting a sidewalk café. While restaurants routinely apply for and receive sidewalk café permits, Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, pointed out that Vinic represents a different case because it is a wine shop, not a restaurant.

“According to our ordinance, the vendor is required to serve alcohol with a meal,” Ald. Miller said, adding the menu consisted of a meat plate and a cheese plate. “I’m not opposed to the application, but we’re getting to the point where I think … I’d like to figure out a way we can move beyond this.”

Mr. Farrar said, “The definition of a ‘meal’ has been subject to ongoing iteration and redefinition over many years here.” He said staff will present amendments to the sidewalk café permit process. “Staff is on it,” he said, and will bring revisions to the Council soon.

Council approved a cost of living adjustment of 2.5% to Mr. Bobkiewicz’s contract. Ald. Miller said Mr. Bobkiewicz elected not to take an increase based on merit this year, in solidarity with other department heads, who will also receive COLA raises only.