Dr. Patricia Efiom, who has served as the City’s Chief Equity Officer for more than a year and half, gave her assessment of the proposed City budget on Oct. 27.

The budget is both equitable and not equitable, Dr. Efiom said, but the twofold bottom line is that there is not sufficient data to know and the City has no definition of equity.

“Because we have no understanding of what equity is, equity is defined very differently for all of us,” Dr. Efiom said. As an example, she said, “Closing a fire station in a neighborhood – no matter what way you go, people are going to be saying closing a fire station in another neighborhood would be more equitable. There is no sense of what equity is.” She said the same is true of all the proposed cuts, so she came up with a formula that would give a lens through which to assess the question “Which of these programs create the most inequity?”

The formula is “Data + Community engagement with those most negatively affected = Equity. Equity is not an individual with the answer.” Even with that formula, however, Dr. Efiom had no answer as to her own question about the programs.

To the larger question “Is this budget equitable?” Dr. Efiom said the answer is “Yes” and “No.”

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said, “I’m not sure there is a finding.” She also said, “This is the first time I’ve heard that we didn’t know what equity is. For me, as alderman of the Fifth Ward, equity is having residents there have the same quality of life as others, the same access to jobs, the same access to services, the same opportunities to own homes as others in Evanston.”

Dr. Efiom told the Council, “I would challenge you to understand that equity is a process. …It is not an answer.” She said the City’s Equity & Empowerment Commission is working on a framework for equity that they would likely present to the Council in December.

At present, though, Dr. Efiom said, there is not sufficient data to know whether City services are equitable. “I need broader data. I need to know how that data [from one department] intersects with data from another department,” she said.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said he would like to know which department heads were and which were not told about potential cuts to their departments. He said cuts to public safety, the Mental Health Board and the Health Department are his major concerns and added, “I don’t have the necessary tools that I can rank what’s important, but I like the fact that you say we have to have more data, just to make certain that we’re inclusive to all residents.”

Dr. Efiom said she also is concerned about cuts to the Health Department. “We would have to pay a fee to Cook County, which is going to cause a fee for some residents – and that’s something we were not clear or transparent on, perhaps because we ourselves did not know that.”

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, asked, “Are there departments not able to keep track of where their services are provided?”

“Each department is collecting data. I need broader data,” said Dr. Efiom.

“Is there any data we can look at now?” Ald. Wynne asked.

“Yes,” said Dr. Efiom. “The data that has come out at these departments … is not bad data. It’s just that data is not complete. … The City Manager and his team have made these recommendations [for budget cuts] because they have more information than I do.”

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz appeared to agree that there is a lack of data to assess City services. “We collect data, but we don’t know who we’re serving.”

Referring to the Council’s decision to raise fees and fines rather than the property tax, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked Dr. Efiom, “Have you given any thought to which is more equitable?

Dr. Efiom said, “The overall raise in taxes is a much more equitable raise. …We’re just not going to know the impact on residents.”

Mayor Stephen Hagerty said, “If we increase the property tax, the people who are going to be most affected are the lower-income people. We hear a lot about how unaffordable Evanston is. We know that race and socio-economics run along the same lines. Parking is demand-based. Is that better [to raise parking fees] because there is more control?”

Dr. Efiom said, “Part of the issue is that we haven’t had a definition of equity. We have to at some point make the decision and say, ‘Here are the consequences of that decision and here’s how we address that problem. So, we raise the taxes and then have to go in and help those affected by taxes. … We have to understand that there are unintended consequences to every decision.”

At the Oct. 27 budget discussion, Patricia Efiom, the City’s Chief Equity Officer said she required more data to be able to assess whether the City’s proposed budget is equitable.

Community Development Director Johanna Leonard said using the STAR evaluation tools has yielded data as well as questions about what additional data is needed. The City has received a 4-STAR rating from the U.S. Green Building Council and has begun to use its livability standards to align the City’s Boards and commissions.  STAR, Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities, is a framework of seven goals, 45 objectives and more than 500 outcomes and action measures that support local efforts toward sustainability. Its program for evaluating local sustainability encompasses economic, environmental and social performance measures.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said, “We collect data, but we don’t know who we’re serving. We need to make the STAR framework our own. We’re asking the right questions, but we need to ask more questions.”

“Is Cradle to Career collecting this information?” asked Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward. “If not, why not? I would like to see that data,” he added.

“They are asking, and they are collecting” said Dr. Efiom. “It’s really about us – figuring out what data we need to use.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...