The fate of the Harley Clarke mansion, raised by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz in July 2011 and an issue on the City Council’s radar since at least the mid-1970s, appeared before Council again on Oct. 26. Once again the result was the same – Council decided to do nothing.
On a motion by Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, seconded by Alderman Jane Grover, whose Seventh Ward includes the mansion site, Council voted to table the matter until such time as the State of Illinois has a budget.
The issue returned to Council two weeks ago on a motion by Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward. Under Ald. Wilson’s proposal, the City would use bonded capital improvement (CIP) funds to rehabilitate the building so that it would meet fire and safety codes and then use the building to provide City programming. The cost of debt service on borrowed funds at the level necessary to perform needed upgrades – about $500,000 according to Ald. Wilson – would be about $35,000 to $40,000 per year, said City Chief Financial Officer Marty Lyons.
A competing proposal authored by Ald. Grover would have seen the City issue “an application for interested nonprofit partners for lease or operational management of the building.” The City would include $250,000 of CIP in its 2016 budget for renovations, but not spend those funds until a partner bearing matching funds of at least that amount could be found.
Neither proposal saw any debate at all at the Oct. 26 Council meeting. Citizens lined up at the podium, many for the 10th or 12th time, urging Council to save the mansion or at least keep the land public space. The arguments were familiar – everyone following City Council over the past several years has heard the various proposals and arguments dozens of times by now.
“Regardless of which proposal we think is the better proposal …,” said Ald. Rainey, when the time came for debate, ”Unfortunately, we do not have [California] Governor [Jerry] Brown as our governor.” With no state budget, she said, and with Governor Rauner’s proposed budgets including “the possibility of diminishing the [City’s] bottom line by $1.5 million … or even a greater amount,” spending $500,000 on the Harley Clarke mansion “is irresponsible.”
Ald. Rainey called both the Wilson and Grover proposals “very responsible,” but said, “We cannot financially, responsibly vote to support $500,000 at this time.” She then formally moved to “table this item until State budget items have been resolved.” Once there is a State budget, she said, the Harley Clarke matter should “immediately” return to City Council for debate and vote.
Under Council rules, a motion to table requires an immediate vote, without debate, if properly seconded. With Ald. Grover’s second, the motion passed by 5-4 vote. Alderman Delores Holmes, 5thWard, called the vote, “very, very difficult. It’s a difficult decision” but when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars, she said she needed to know that the dollars are available.
Aldermen Holmes, Grover and Rainey were joined by Aldermen Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, and Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, in voting to hold the issue.
Ald. Wilson was joined by Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Brian Miller, 9th Ward, in voting no on tabling the issue.
With that, City Council formally placed the Harley Clarke matter on the table, and it cannot be discussed or voted on until officially taken off the table.
At call of the wards, Ald. Tendam attempted to refer the matter to the City’s Parks and Recreation Board for further discussion and recommendation. Ald Wilson protested, saying his proposal included a partial referral to the Parks and Recreation Board and as such the matter was “on the table” and must remain there.
Ald. Grover said there was nothing to prevent the Parks and Recreation Board from discussing this issue on its own without Council referral. Whether the Board will choose to take up this issue on its own is a matter for that body to decide.
With that, the Harley Clarke matter sailed into the distance, off the very active punting foot of the Evanston City Council. As of press time, there is still no State of Illinois budget in sight.