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Back in November 2008, a Council Bytes column began as follows: “Monday’s City Council meeting opened under raucous candlelight and closed with celebrations of the season…During opening Public Announcements, Interim City Manager Rolanda B. Russell called to a cadre of Mayor Lorraine H. Morton’s relatives who wheeled in a giant birthday cake topped by a single candle. After happy birthday was sung, the Mayor danced down from her perch to blow out the candle, and proclaimed her birthday week, in which family traveled to visit her from Boston, New York, and Winston-Salem, as, ‘A wonderful, wonderful, wonderful celebration. Good for the heart.’”
It was my second Council Nuggets, the first one being so dry and frankly boring I leapt one issue forward for today’s purposes.
This column will be my last, at least for a time, as I am stepping away from the RoundTable to seek public office as Alderman from the Ninth Ward. Reporting has been a passion for me, but more importantly a responsibility. An informed public is critical to any democracy, a simple fact highlighted most abruptly by this year’s national election. Not everyone has the time to devote to hours-long City Council meetings, however, so it falls upon the press to deliver the message, and to hold government accountable.
I have tried over the last eight years to provide human context, recognize the absurd and humorous at times, celebrate the successes and accomplishments, explain the nuances, and provide facts about Council doings to our readers. All along, I have felt the powerful responsibility incumbent in what we as journalists do. I believe facts are more digestible when couched in human readable terms, though, and I hope readers saw that belief shine through – at least on occasion.
I sincerely thank the RoundTable for having faith in my reporting, and for giving me leeway at times to pursue other angles and stories. (For example, the time they sponsored my press pass to visit the Green Bay Packers training camp and pre-season game because a Northwestern player was trying to make the roster.) I also thank you, the readers, for trusting me and the RoundTable as a source of news and information. We cannot do this without you.
Right now, I feel the bittersweet emotion of goodbye as a different type of responsibility calls me away from this newspaper. It is a similar responsibility, though – one of public service to the community. With that, here it is – Council Nuggets from the November 28, 2016 City Council meeting.
Chambers teemed with public speakers thanks to a proposed “Welcoming City” ordinance and the arrest of Devon Reid, candidate for clerk, the night before. Lost in the cacophony, or at least stifled significantly, was the passage of the City’s $315 million budget, the tax levies accompanying it, and the Harley Clark implication contained within it.
The meeting started with the type of day-to-day purchases consistently voted on every meeting with little or no discussion. Property insurance, excess workers’ comp and liability insurance, and water treatment chemicals purchases were approved.
Also approved was a $5,000 grant to First Night Evanston, though City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz hinted this year’s grant may be the last to come before Council. “Every year this comes before us,” he said, “and every year we think will be the last.” He said Council could direct this particular request through the Arts Council instead, placing First Night on par with all other arts organizations seeking a portion of the City’s “rather small pot” of “$25,000 or $30,000” public funding for arts events.
Through this year, he said, First Night has come to the Council late in the year requesting small grants outside of normal budgeted channels to fill a gap in their prepared budget. The Committee directed any future year requests to the arts council.
The third quarter financial report came next. The City provides quarterly reports of expense and revenue allowing Council to make any emergency adjustments needed to keep the budget on track. In past years, significant cuts have been needed, and on occasion additional funds have become available. Not so this year. The report showed revenues at 78.5% of budget and expenses at 74%. Seasonal cycles are important to note as nearly all property tax revenue is in but the City expects increased sales tax revenue from holiday shopping. On the expense side, the snow season has yet to begin, and snow removal costs could easily push expenses north of current budget numbers. For now, though, the City’s financial condition is steady but tentative according to the report.
City Clerk Greene, an ordained minister and ordained elder in the 7th Day Adventist Church, asked for and was given the authority to solemnize marriages. Mr. Green told the RoundTable a marriage may actually take place in the City Clerk’s office in December. Council suspended the rules requiring a second reading of the ordinance so as to permit the December nuptials.
On to the liquor bytes chronicling the comings and goings of restaurants and the like. Comings this week: Pita I on 19267 Central Street seeks a class H.
A coming on the heels of a going: Dave’s New Kitchen, the replacement for Dave’s Italian Kitchen, asked for an received a Class D license. Class D is more traditional than Class H, and permits service until 1:00 am. The only real difference between D and H is Class H can serve until 10:00 pm. Both licenses cost $2,800 per year. It is unclear why a City with some 36 different licenses needs both Class D and Class H.
The new Class W license created for the Quad Indoor Sports bubble may be amended already, as Council introduced changes extending hours to 11:00 am through midnight Mon-Sat and noon to midnight Sunday. Council agreed to remove a restriction limiting sales to two drinks per customer per day, and lowered the annual fee from $4,000 to $2,500. The ordinance as amended returns for final reading in two weeks.
Also being amended right away is Dance Center Evanston’s Class U. When passed two weeks earlier, the license permitted the sale of beer and wine only. After Monday’s tweak, Dance Center can now sell alcoholic drinks as well. Council suspended the rules to allow the change to be effective immediately.
Sewer rates are going down. But at the exact same time, and in the exact same amount, water rates are going up. The net impact for Evanston water customers will be no change at all – we will still pay the same amount on our water bills. Sewer bonds are being paid off allowing for lower sewer rates; water rates are going up so the City can replace water mains without having to borrow with additional bonds, said Public Works Director Dave Stoneback. Again, the net result will be neutral, but the ability to avoid borrowing through bonds means long term debt service shifts us to more pay as you go.
At call of the wards, everyone took the opportunity to wave goodbye to sustainability coordinator Catherine Hurley, who is resigning to take a similar job with Argonne Laboratory. She will be missed.