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These are Alderman Miller’s responses to the RoundTable’s questions.
Question: Please provide information on your educational background; employment/professional background; volunteer and civic activities; and other attributes that qualify you for the position of Mayor.
B.A. from the George Washington University, J.D. from Northwestern University
1998 Graduate of ETHS
Chief of Staff to Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin
- Crafted, advanced and implemented policy agenda of County Commissioner and provided oversight in Cook County Government and the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
- Authored approximately 100 substantive resolutions and ordinances in the areas of government finance, public safety, public health, ethics, governmental operations/reform, environmental improvement and many other issues (list available upon request).
- Worked with budgets of over $4.5 billion (Cook County) and $180 million (Forest Preserve District).
- Managed the Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations and Rules Committees of the Boards of Commissioners, which involved coordinating meeting agendas and notices, governmental appointees, ensuring parliamentary procedure and tracking of committee legislation. Created and led nominations process for METRA vacancies.
- Analyzed state, county and municipal law involving governmental interactions and policies.
- Led intergovernmental efforts with local municipalities on various initiatives including road construction, stormwater management, infrastructure improvement, economic development and more.
- Managed governmental office operations including staff of four, $360,000 annual budget, and website.
- Assisted constituents in appealing property tax assessments and with navigating County government.
Alderman – 9th Ward of Evanston
- Serve as one of nine part-time alderpersons for municipality with 74,000 residents, total budget of approximately $375 million, and 1,000 employees.
- Member of the 9-11 Emergency Telephone System, Administration and Public Works, Human Services, M/W/EBE Development, Rules and Transportation and Parking Committees of the City Council.
- Analyze, create and deliberate on City capital and operating budgets, financial reports, strategic plans and policies.
- Resolve constituent-raised requests including land use, economic development, crime, property standards, traffic enforcement, Clean Air Act violations and other quality of life issues.
- Conduct extensive constituent outreach, including hosting ward meetings, compiling aldermanic newsletters, and coordinating hundreds of service requests.
- Authored ordinances and resolutions creating an independent inspector general, a compromise proposal on land use/City facilities, increasing anti-violence workers, capital improvement planning and other reform issues.
- Led opposition to sale of City assets including the Harley Clarke Mansion and Recycling Center, discriminatory police enforcement, implementation of new tax increment financing district to fund private theatre development, unplanned economic development and waste of City assets/resources.
Relevant employment experience
Executive Director, First Defense Legal Aid – Executive Director of nonprofit agency that provided free legal representation to those in Chicago police custody
Associate Attorney, Proskauer Rose, LLP – represented corporate policyholders against their insurance companies
City of Chicago Corporation Counsel’s office – I represented the City in worker’s compensation actions, tort actions, federal civil rights actions against police officers, and employment discrimination claims.
I have worked for a federal judge, the Illinois Attorney General and as a community organizer in Evansville, Indiana. I’m proud to say that after graduating from ETHS, I completed a year of service with Americorps.
Former President, Democratic Party of Evanston
Treasurer, Chicago Votes Education Fund Board of Directors
Former Chair, Camp Echo Committee of the McGaw YMCA
Member, 125th Anniversary Committee of the McGaw YMCA
Fellow, New Leaders Council
Alum, Leadership Evanston
Former Board Member, Peaceable Cities Evanston
Former Board Member, Young Professionals of Evanston
Volunteer, Family Promise of the North Shore, Connections for the Homeless
Nonprofit advisor – various organizations including Digital Hope and the Chicago Mariachi Projects.
The intangible qualities of an individual are more important than the tangible.
The most important attribute for a new mayor is someone with a backbone. He or she must recognize, admit, analyze, and then stand up for a solution to our community’s problems. My record demonstrates that I am willing to challenge the status quo, push for transparency and reform, and advocate and implement solutions to our city’s most pressing challenges. Having experience or good ideas isn’t enough. We need a mayor that is willing to challenge the status quo and reform the way our City operates.
Question: What would be your top three priorities as Mayor? What would you do to advance your priorities?
- Fiscal Planning and Reform
Some of the most pressing problems of Evanston are also the most expensive. From the reconstruction of the Robert Crown Center, to the need to create and implement a plan to rehabilitate our parks, to finding a multi-faceted solution to our pension deficit, we need to discuss long-term strategies to address these fiscal deficits.
Each of these programs will require 10-20 years to fully solve. As a result, we need to create a plan to start that process today, with multi-year solutions. Those solutions will need to include policy change (for example, decreasing the projected rate of return on investments in our pension funds to more adequately reflect actual market activity) and increasing funding to solve the problem.
One of the most important policy initiatives we can undertake would be to conduct property tax planning. We have a number of tax increment financing districts that will be retiring in the next few years, leading to significant revenue for the City. This money should be included in the plans and allocated to solving some of our longer term problems.
B. Increase Resources to prevent Gun Violence
As outlined in question 4, we need to increase the resources to address gun violence. Please see my explanation below.
C. Police Accountability
As recent events have demonstrated, there is a profound need to reform Evanston’s Police Department. Please see my answer to question 8 for an outline of this issue.
Question: What role, if any, do you think the Mayor should play in developing a vision for the City and in promoting or implementing that vision?
Many in Evanston view the Mayor as a mostly ceremonial position. However, the most important role of the mayor is to chair the City Council. As the sole representative of the entire City on the Council, the mayor should be the one setting the agenda for the City. Instead of devolving into parochial interests on a ward by ward basis, the City’s agenda must prioritize its activities to those areas that are in greatest need and have the greatest use. The mayor should work with all aldermen to create a comprehensive plan for all of the City’s policies and needs.
Question: What should the City do to address youth violence? Is it doing enough, should it do things differently?
While we have a good start, the City is not doing enough. Despite increases in shootings and murders, the only response proposed by the City Council was to increase our summer jobs program.
Summer jobs are not enough.
The United States Agency for International Development conducted a review of numerous studies of violence reduction methods to determine what is the best method for reducing violence (see https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/USAID-2016-What-Works-in-Reducing-Community-Violence-Final-Report.pdf). The study found that targeted deterrence coupled with mental health counseling work.
Targeted deterrence involves conducting outreach with at-risk individuals, building relationships with them and then connecting them with services. The City of Evanston currently has outreach workers in its Community Services Division conducting targeted deterrence. However, they need more resources. As alderman, I have twice called for the City to increase the number of outreach workers.
At the same time, we need to ensure that at-risk individuals are receiving the mental health counseling they need to deal with the root causes of violence. Luckily, Evanston has a line-item appropriation for mental health care. Unfortunately, we do not fund innovative violence reduction mental health care. As alderman, I have called for the reformation of the mental health funding process, and I will work as mayor to ensure we are providing mental health care for at-risk individuals and not just organizations that have always received funding. Our current mental health funding process does not allow for innovation and currently does not provide services to at-risk youth who are engaged in gun violence.
Question: What should the City do to promote economic development? Is it doing enough; should it do things differently?
The City of Evanston has a very successful track record with development, as evidenced by our thriving Downtown and commercial areas. However, we have invested a great deal of tax dollars into private developments at the expense of our City owned parks and facilities. It’s time to stop subsidizing private development and reinvest our money in the needs of the City government.
However, given the rapid and phenomenal growth in Evanston, the City should “get out of the way.” I have heard from numerous business owners that our processes for license and/or permit approval are much too onerous and burdensome. As a result, businesses avoid doing business in Evanston. We need to ensure that our business requirements are as efficient and effective as possible.
Question: Name some things the City should do to preserve or create additional affordable housing.
The role of the City in preserving and creating affordable housing is both financial and legislative.
On the financial side, the City should be using its Community Development Block Grant allocation, Affordable Housing Trust and General Assistance funds to create revolving, low or no interest financial programs for residents in need of affordable housing. Those programs should assist in 1) the purchase and rehabilitation of existing affordable housing; 2) emergency rent/mortgage assistance; 3) assistance for repairs to keep residents in their current homes; and 4) financial remediation for “zombie” properties (those that have tax liens, etc. against them, making them unmarketable.)
The City’s policies should also promote affordable housing. Having developer set-asides in new development is a good start, but we need to ensure that existing housing is affordable too, and not simply torn down and replaced with more expensive housing. The City needs to create a policy for the adaptive reuse of structures to ensure that they any new development of an existing site considers affordable housing. The City should also have a “right of first refusal” policy, to allow it or a nonprofit organization to purchase any affordable units that are going to be sold.
Question: Do you support Evanston’s Cradle to Career initiative and partnering with community organizations to increase opportunities for youth? Please explain.
I support the Cradle to Career initiative, as the idea and premise is sound. Given the collective resources in Evanston, coming together to create solutions for youth is a great idea.I believe the organization has great potential, I just think it needs to move towards taking more action. It has spent a great deal of time analyzing the issues involved with increasing opportunities for youth and it now needs to recommend tangible steps towards taking action to solve the problem.
Question: How should the City promote equity?
As recent events have demonstrated, there is a profound need to reform Evanston’s Police Department. The first step would be to have a comprehensive reporting to the Council on a monthly basis (in the model of “Compstat). That report would include both reporting on crimes, but also on police use of force incidents, complaints, etc. Currently, we get very little reporting on the police, with most of it consisting of thank you letters for police acts. Second, I would call for a change to the training of officers, requiring the prioritization of de-escalation training. Third, I would create an independent review board for police complaints. Too often, the complaints of our community against officers are not taken seriously and are given cursory reviews before being dismissed.
Question: The City has taken steps toward becoming a sustainable City. What will you do as Mayor to promote sustainability in ways that will be affordable for all residents?
Evanston has already taken outstanding steps to being the most sustainable city possible.
The most important step would be to ensure that the City’s own facilities are energy efficient. As part of our efforts to improve our facilities, we need to set efficiency standards and construct our facilities accordingly. This will also save the City a great deal of money over time.
The City should also examine creating an energy co-op to ensure that future provider contracts always come from sustainable sources. Given that the current energy provider contract is coming up for renewal next year, there is a chance that the current contract with sustainable energy could be more expensive than a contract with ComEd. If Evanston were to create its own co-op, we can have sustainable energy provided at a cheaper cost than a contract with ComEd.
Our zoning and planning regulations could also be used to promote green building. Like we do with transit-oriented development, we could ease developers restrictions and give credits for green building.
While there are other smaller ideas that would have an impact and should be considered, I believe those are the ideas that would have the biggest impact on our sustainability over the short and long term of the City.
Question: What do you think about privatizing public spaces, such as the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, the Recycling Center, the Library parking lot, and the Harley Clarke Mansion?
We should always seek to avoid privatizing public spaces. As alderman, I have prided myself on standing against the sale of our public spaces in a short-sighted fashion. I strongly support the rehabilitation of the Harley Clarke Mansion, and I was the only alderman to vote against the sale of the Recycling Center.
Given that we have no process or plan for the use or rehabilitation of our current assets, it is short-sighted to sell our property. Furthermore, when we rush to sell property (like the library parking lot) we often let short term potential profit get in the way of sound decision-making.
The City needs to create a transparent process for the sale of public spaces. First, we need to determine what the final use of the property should be. We should begin the process with a clear end in mind. Unless we take that difficult step, we will spend two years arguing over potential uses, like we did with Harley Clarke.
After we determine a use, we need to have an open process to allow for bidders to plan for that use. If it is a privatization, we need to ensure the City is getting the best possible deal and that the public is not unfairly burdened by whatever will be used on the site. If the site is to remain public, we need to ensure that all qualified parties for the rehabilitation of the site are given a fair chance to provide their services. Decisions on who is going to get a contract should be vetted publicly.
Question: How will you interact with State officials, given the stalemate in Springfield and the potential loss of funding for the City?
I will work with all of our elected officials in a forthright and honest manner, much like I have while working with Commissioner Suffredin sad his Chief of Staff. Our elected officials can be a benefit and resource to the City, so we should work together to realize opportunities for the City.