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Bolstered by a robust weekend email campaign that barraged City Council with messages and a coalition of citizens from the Reclaim Evanston organization and members of the movement protesting the Albion project, City Clerk Devon Reid said the 2018 budget for the City Clerk’s Office should only receive the 4% cut mandated for all City departments. According to the protesters and emails, his budget instead faced a 35% cut.
Council addressed the matter at the Dec. 11 City Council meeting as it deliberated passing the City’s final 2018 budget.
City Chief Financial Officer Martin Lyons explained that characterizing the budget cut as a 35% cut was misleading. In July 2017, he said, passport services and the collection of real estate transfer stamps, duties sufficient to occupy a full-time equivalent deputy clerk, were shifted from the Clerk’s office in the City Collector’s office of the City’s Department of Finance. Clerk Reid has said the move was by mutual agreement. According to the 2018 budget, the City expects to bring in $3.3 million in transfer taxes next year.
The 2018 Clerk’s office budget, according to Mr. Lyons, reflects the same 2017 budget figure cut by 4%, less the FTE employee who moved to the City’s Department of Finance. The City still pays for the FTE, but no longer is the employee paid out of the Clerk’s budget.
Clerk Reid told Council he needed another deputy to undertake initiatives such as increased voter participation outreach and a “legislative tracker” which will allow citizens to follow the progress of ordinances in Evanston. He said he needed to purchase software to undertake such initiatives.
Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, said, “Clerk Reid, between the [Illinois] statute, there are 15 duties. Are you saying between you and the deputy clerk,” you cannot accomplish these duties? “Do you have sufficient staffing to accomplish these?”
“No. No to the level” expected by City of Evanston residents, said Clerk Reid.
“You are the only full-time person up here,” said Ald. Suffredin. The City Council and the Mayor are part-time positions while the City Clerk’s position is full-time, and the annual salary is $64,000 plus benefits.
One of the Clerk’s duties is to “furnish to the members of the City Council a copy of the proceedings of the meetings of the City Council not later than the fifth day following such meeting.” Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “The City website doesnt’ have minutes posted since the middle of October.” (See sidebar)
Ald. Wilson also said the Clerk’s proposed initiatives were conceptual rather than coherent proposals. “You need to come to us with more than the general concept,” he said. “I don’t feel comfortable hiring another assistant when we don’t know what that assistant would do.” He said he knew there were “some great [software] products out there,” but the Clerk had not told Council which of those products he wanted to purchase.
Clerk Reid said he “wished he had been involved in the budget process – but the process is dysfunctional.” He said with the proposed budget surplus of $30,000, plus $30,000 that could be realized if his office took back passport processing, the budget increase he requested would amount to only about $25,000.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, took issue with the Clerk’s request for voter outreach software. She said a complete voter list and history is available from the County for only $6.
“It’s not just the voter list itself,” said Clerk Reid. The software he wanted “allows us to track who we’ve spoken to,” to keep notes of contacts. He said he planned to reach out to voters who historically participate in only presidential elections, or not at all, to encourage participation in all municipal elections.
Ald. Rainey cautioned the Clerk about being overtly political. “I am concerned based on the way you talk – it’s sounding way too political. You are the City Clerk. You can’t be political. You have conducted the biggest political campaign over this budget,” she said, referring to the email campaign and the Reclaim and other speakers. “You have got to step back from that as a City Clerk. It is a nonpartisan office. You have got to stop.”
Ald. Wilson expressed a similar concern over the voter tracker software. “I am troubled by that idea,” he said. If you are contacting someone and keeping records, somebody’s keeping a database of voting habits … I’m not comfortable paying someone to go door to door to do that.”
“Passport service is not a vital function,” said Clerk Reid. Real estate transfer stamp collection is not a required Clerk function by State or City law. “If you were comfortable with that” you should be comfortable with expanding the Clerk duties in other, voter participation directions. “I have worked with nonprofits,” he added. “I know how to be nonpartisan.”
Another service offered by the Clerk but not required is notary service. According to the Clerk’s page within the City website, the Clerk offers notary service to all residents. The first document is free – any additional documents cost $1 each. The website also advertises in-home notary service – a City notary will travel to a resident’s home to notarize documents for a $5 fee.
“Are you a notary?” asked Ald. Wilson.
“For some reason, my application has bounced back,” said Clerk Reid.
“Now that the Clerk is not offering notary services, we have had to step up,” said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. Those seeking a notary are shuffled up to the fourth floor to either the City Manager’s office or the Legal Department.
“This is tough, because Clerk Reid was elected by the people,” said Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward. “The concern I have is what Ald. Suffredin pointed out; there are specific job duties that are not being met consistently.” Minutes have not been produced, she said, and she has received calls from constituents complaining that Clerk Reid has been absent and not in his office.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she has also received calls complaining about Clerk Reid’s not being in the office. “What’s in the office is of primary importance,” she said.
Ald. Fiske questioned a line in the budget paying for the use of a City car. Clerk Reid does not drive, and uses a City vehicle costing an estimated $500 a year. “If the deputy clerk is driving you, you are taking the deputy away from the office,” said Ald. Fiske.
With the hour approaching 11 p.m., Ald. Simmons said, “I would like to see the Clerk have $8,000 to use as he sees fit” for software purchases, to pay part-time staff for voter outreach or election duties, or voter outreach T-shirts. The vote was 4-4, with Aldermen Cicely Fleming, Peter Braithwaite, and Suffredin joining Ald. Simmons in voting “Yes.” Mayor Stephen Hagerty broke the tie with his “Yes” vote.
Council amended the City’s budget to add $8,000 to Clerk Reid’s budget.
For the Record
The accompanying article as posted quoted Ald. Don Wilson as saying, “”There are no minutes since October.”” The article has been changed to reflect that Ald. Wilson said at the Dec. 11 City Council meeting, “”The City website doesn’t have minutes posted since the middle of October.” Clerk Devon Green told the RoundTable that minutes were submitted to and approved by Council, but there was a delay in providing a link on the website, although, he said, the minutes were available in the City Council packets which are on the City website, and a link was provided to the minutes in the packet. Upon review, the RoundTable notes that on Nov. 13, City Council approved minutes for its Oct. 16 (corrected), Oct. 23, Oct. 28, and Oct. 30 meetings. On Nov. 27, City Council approved minutes for its Nov. 13 meeting. On Dec. 11, City Council approved minutes for its Nov. 20 and 27 meetings.