Marathon City Council meetings have returned to Evanston’s Civic Center. After several years of relative calm and meetings that ended at sane hours like 9:30, or even 11:00 p.m., Council’s Sept. 25 meeting pushed endurance to the near breaking point, ending after 1:30 a.m. Council went into Executive Session thereafter, continuing the meeting until about 2 a.m.
A typical regular City Council meeting night starts with the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting. That meeting begins with the bills list – a compilation of all spending by the City over the past two to three weeks. The committee goes over the list, and passes it on to the regular City Council meeting.
Regular City Council meetings start with announcements, then public comment. After residents have had their say, the City Manager introduces Special Orders of Business – in this case, FOIA, the City Clerk, and Robert Crown – covered elsewhere in this newspaper. Then comes the Consent Agenda, which begins usually with minutes and the bills list again.
Monday night highlighted changes brought on by the new Council configuration. First, the agenda showed no minutes to approve – they have yet to be prepared. And the bills list has changed because Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, is a lobbyist who represents Amazon.com in Springfield at times. He has had to recuse himself from all bills list votes because the City, as it turns out, buys extensively from Amazon.
With Ald. Suffredin absent Monday night, Council could vote on the bills list without the Suffredin recusal dance. It was a good thing – the City bought about 115 times from Amazon on this list. One wonders how many of those purchases, totally over $10,000, could have been made locally supporting our Evanston businesses.
The A&PW committee also considered the purchase of body worn cameras for Evanston police officers and the software to process resulting video. The purchase includes interview room cameras as well. Deputy Chief Jay Parrot said the Illinois body worn camera act governed the timing of videos – video flagged (for any of a number of reasons) must be deleted within 2 years, non-flagged on the 91st day.
Any way you slice it, the cameras are expensive – over $1.14 million. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said, “The only new hire in the 2018 budget” is the full-time body camera video editor. Council did not even mention the cost, recognizing the reality in our current environment – the police have to have body cameras.
The contract covering data storage and related technical aspects of the camera program lasts five years. Funding for 2018 comes from general obligation bonds. Frequent government critic Junad Rizki pointed out at Citizen Comment that using 20-year bonds to pay for five-year cameras means taxpayers will still be paying in 2030 for cameras that likely went out of service over a decade earlier. Such are the realities of the City’s desperation to get cameras online.
The City is changing rodent control vendors, going back to Rose Pest Control after a cost-saving experiment with Smithereen. “Even after our greatest efforts and their greatest efforts, they just don’t have the capacity” to meet Evanston’s challenging rodent control requirements, said the City’s Health Director Evonda Thomas-Smith.
“This is a really good example of the lowest bidder who appeared responsive in their proposal not being the best choice,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. She made a motion to stop trying to find the lowest bidder and go back to the contractor who worked in previous years. “We had very good results, did we not, with Rose?” she asked. The Committee agreed unanimously, and staff will negotiate a contract with Rose for the rest of 2017 and on.
“Is there any way they can do something about the skunks?” asked Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward. The short answer is no – wild animals are treated differently than rodents under the law.
Council acknowledged officially what everyone who ever goes downtown has realized for months – the Fountain Square project will not be finished on time. Set to conclude Dec. 1, the project deadline was extended by change order through May 1, 2018. At least there is no cost associated with the added time.
The reason, according to the staff memo: “Several factors including delays in receiving an Illinois Department of Public Health permit for the fountain construction and extended lead-times for procurement of the memorial wall glazing. …” The contractor promises to finish everything but the Memorial Wall on time, by Dec. 1, but the wall will have to wait until next year.
Solid waste collection contracts remain in limbo. Director of Public Works Dave Stoneback announced that on Sept. 22, “one of the proposers ‘qualified’ their proposal.” He would not reveal any details, just asked that staff be given the chance to review the proposal with Corporation Counsel.
“Sanitation is something everybody in the City has to embrace,” said Ald. Rainey. She asked for an analysis showing how increased costs for garbage and recycling collection would impact either a resident’s water bill, should the increase pass to water customers directly, or a property owners’ property tax bill, should the increased costs come out of the general fund. She renewed her call that all increases stay on the tax bill permitting property owners to at least write off local taxes on their federal income tax returns. Water bills cannot be written off, but local taxes are permitted deductions.
Mr. Bobkiewicz promised to “narrow down some of these options no matter how you fund them. … Hopefully, we do this every five years [when contracts come up] and will be done with it.”
City Council members gave up their power to arrest people, one of several police powers bestowed upon the aldermen by an archaic state law. “This is basically an antiquated power that we do not believe should lie with Aldermen and the City Clerk,” said Assistant Corporation Council Michelle Masoncup. Council suspended the rules removing their power, and the power of the City Clerk, to arrest Evanstonians.
“But we can still carry guns?” asked Ald. Rainey.
“With proper training,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz.
“Well, if we can still carry guns …,” replied Ald. Rainey, and then voted yes.
Mr. Bobkiewicz suggested Council receive a proposed library capital improvement plan at a later date. He said the library has been devoted time to its Main Library renovation proposal, and is ahead in the planning phase of most City capital projects. He suggested setting aside one evening to talk about all City capital projects, including the library’s. “The library is ready to go,” he said.
“Will you host any public meetings at the library?” asked Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward.
“We have been discussing these proposed renovations at our monthly board meeting” over the past year or so, said Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons. All board meetings are open to the public and the agendas are posted well ahead of each meeting. Director Lyons told the RoundTable the renovations would cost about $11 million, but the cost may have little impact on residents’ tax bills because current debt service being paid on the original bonds used to build the main library building are being satisfied. The project may be expenditure neutral depending on bond rates, she said, though the details are not yet known.