From left, members of the Board of Ethics L J Ellul, Jennifer Billingsley (Chair), and Thomas Vincent at the Oct. 16 meeting. Board member Elizabeth Gustafson was present, but not shown in photo.                                                                           RoundTable photo

On Oct. 16, the City’s Board of Ethics unanimously held that it had jurisdiction to hear two complaints alleging that Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey violated provisions of Evanston’s Ethics Code. The Board did not hear evidence on either complaint and did not make any ruling on the merits.

The complaints allege violations of Evanston’s Code of Ethics, Standards of Conduct (Sec. 1-10-4), and/or Prohibited Political Activities (Sec. 1-10-5).

The first complaint, filed by Nancy Sreenan, alleges that Ald. Rainey forwarded a June 4 email she sent to Ald. Rainey regarding “Reject Evanston Lighthouse Dune’s Proposal” to members of the ELD [Evanston Lighthouse Dunes] group without her permission. The complaint also alleges that Ald. Rainey denigrated the contents of her email.

In contrast, Ms. Sreenan’s complaint alleges that Ald. Rainey did not forward correspondence from ELD supporters to ELHG [Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens] supporters, and, “It is clear evidence of bias and collusion with ELD,” in violation of Sec. 1-10-4.

The second complaint, filed by Mary (Lori) Keenan and Clare Kelly, contained six claims, five of which the Board held it had jurisdiction over.

First, the complaint alleges that “Alderman Rainey engaged in fundraising and organizing on behalf of the ‘Evanston Lighthouse Dunes’ group” in violation of Sec. 1-10-4.

Second, it alleges that “Alderman Rainey has intentionally used her City of Evanston email account in connection with a prohibited political activity (soliciting contributions),” in violation of Sec. 1-10-5.

Third, it alleges that “Alderman Rainey’s actions, statements and established relationships demonstrate that she has been representing private interests before city bodies with regard to the ‘Evanston Lighthouse Dunes’ group and the proposal to demolish the publicly owned Harley Clarke mansion,” in violation of Sec. 1-10-4.

Fourth, it alleges “Alderman Rainey has used the influence and prestige of her office to engage in transactions to promote and advance the interests of the ‘Evanston Lighthouse Dunes’ group, which would to a reasonable person appear to impair her independence of judgement or action in the performance of her duties with regard to any actions and/or decisions related to the Harley Clarke property” in violation of Sec. 1-10-4.

Fifth, the complaint alleges that “Alderman Rainey has performed her duties with partiality and prejudice. She has made available consideration, treatment and advantage to the individuals of the ‘Evanston Lighthouse Dunes’ group beyond that which is available to every other citizen. She has participated in votes with respect to Harley Clarke after acting as a volunteer fundraiser and organizer for the Dunes group.”

The complaint attached a seven-page statement of evidence in support of the claims and requests that the Memorandum of Understanding dated Aug. 27, 2018 between the ELD group and the City relating to the demolition of the Harley Clarke mansion be voided and that Ald. Rainey be recused.

While holding it had jurisdiction over claims based on the Evanston Ethics Code, the Board held it lacked jurisdiction over two claims alleging a violation of State law.

Before the ruling, Ald. Rainey’s attorney, Former First Ward Alderman Art Newman, argued that the Board lacked jurisdiction over any of the claims. He said, “An alderman is only limited from doing prohibited political activities during their compensated time … For an alderman, the only time he’s under the control of the City is during an actual meeting. … When they’re outside the meeting of the Council, they can meet with constituents, they can make contributions, they can solicit contributions. So this alleged improper prohibited political activity is totally wrong by the complainant.”

He added, “When you advocate for a constituent or a neighborhood group, that’s not representing, that’s advocating political positions that you’re elected to do. You have to do that.”

After issuing its ruling Board Chair Jennifer Billingsley said the Board intended to hold a hearing on Oct. 25, and asked if anyone had a problem with that date.  Mr. Newman said under the Code, after the Board decides it had jurisdiction, the law department is required to send him a copy of the complaint and he would have 30 days to file a written response. He said he needed 30 days to prepare, and added that he had a five-day trial scheduled to start on Oct. 25. He said, “I can’t make it on the 25th … We need time to prepare. We’re going to take the charges seriously. They are serious, and we need the time to prepare.”

Anish Parikh, attorney for Ms. Keenan, said the Code requires a hearing “within” 30 days of the respondent’s receipt of the complaint, adding that the 30 days is the maximum. He said Ald. Rainey had the complaint by Sept. 13.

Jeff Smith, attorney for Ms. Kelly, added that part of the remedy sought is to void the memorandum of understanding entered into between the City and the Evanston Lighthouse Dunes group, and that things were moving forward in the City based on that. He added, “This is not a situation where things can go on and on because other things depend on it.”

Board Chair Billingsley said the Board understood that the complaint was provided to Ald. Rainey at the end of August or early September, and the hearing should have been held a month ago. “That delay makes it seem like this Board is taking too long to hear a case that is before the community in an election on a referendum.”

The Board unanimously approved a motion to schedule the hearing for Oct. 25.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...