At the special April 10 City Council meeting, Aldermen speedily approved the City’s payroll and bills, an honorary street name, and several Mayoral appointments and re-appointments to various City boards, commissions and committees, but when it came to the Ethics Board, aldermen were split unevenly on the ethics of how to proceed. Although the Mayor makes the appointments, they are subject to City Council approval.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who is retiring, had made two new appointments and one re-appointment to the City’s Ethic Board, whose members had not constituted a full board for several months. With one member out of town last month, the Board was not able to muster a quorum to meet before the April 4 General Election and hear complaints about ethical violations allegedly committed during the campaign.
The term of Kelda Harris-Harty had expired but she was eligible to be re-appointed for a second term. The two new appointees were Karena Bierman and Vincent Thomas, Jr.
Madelyn Ducré, the sole speaker during public comment, said she was glad to hear that the Ethics Board would meet on April 18. She added, though, “I just wish we had met before, because we could have really had a lot of things straightened out for the First Ward, the Fifth Ward, the Mayor and the City Clerk. It affected everybody. I really do believe it could have been different.”
First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske, who was elected for another term, asked that the appointments to the Ethics Board be held until after the new Council had been seated on May 8. She said that the fact that the Mayor is the subject of one of the ethics complaints would create “the appearance of a conflict,” if these appointments were approved.
“If these people are not appointed, we will have only two people serving on the Board of Ethics, and they could not meet April 18,” the Mayor said.
Ald. Fiske said she understood that, but added, “I think this is something that is important to the City Council and the citizens of Evanston. … I feel very uncomfortable. This is not the right thing to do. It’s not going to hurt anyone to wait.”
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, who is retiring and who is also the subject of at least one complaint, said, “Judy, I’m very hurt.” Ald. Holmes did not address the Mayor’s possible conflict of appointing members to a Board that would rule on her conduct but said, “The Mayor is the Mayor until May 8. It’s her duty to appoint people. I’m doing this from a very selfish and personal level – I don’t want to leave this office with this hanging over my head. I just feel people need to understand and know what went on.”
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “I do understand the part about the appearance of conflict. Whoever the Mayor is will have to make these appointments.” He said during the campaign season there were “a lot of perceptions that simply weren’t true. … Balancing all these things out, my inclination is to make the appointment.”
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said all the people on the Board of Ethics were appointed by the Mayor. “At some point, we have to believe our Board of Ethics can act independently.”
Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, said he agreed with Ald. Fiske. “It’s about having a good process. We have to have a sound Ethics Board.” He also objected to Mayor Tisdahl’s appointment of a campaign manager whose candidate was elected on April 4. Mr. Thomas was involved in the campaign of Cicely Fleming, who was just elected Ninth Ward Alderman, including speaking on her behalf at a campaign forum held by Citizens Network of Protection.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked Ald. Fiske to divide her motion between the appointment of Mr. Thomas and Ms. Bierman, on the one hand, and Ms. Harris-Harty, on the other.
Aldermen approved all three appointments, but not unanimously. Alds. Fiske and Miller voted “no” on all three appointments; Ald. Rainey joined them in voting “no” on the appointment of Mr. Thomas.
The April 18 Ethics Board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Room 2403 of the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.