Retiring Recreation Superintendent Bob Dorneker said goodbye at the Nov. 12 City Council meeting. RoundTable photo

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The six-plus hours of City meetings on Nov. 12 took aldermen on a virtual trip of the City.

Two Employees Leave

Leaving their professional homes were Bob Dorneker and Cindy Plante. Mr. Dorneker, Recreation Superintendent, who served the City for more than 30 years, will retire at the end of the year. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said, “Bob Dorneker is one of the people who made Evanston a nice place to live, the place we all want to live.”

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “You have made living in Evanston a better place for everyone in the City.” Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said, “You’ve always been patient and hard-working – and with a good spirit.”

Mr. Dorneker said, “It’s really been an honor to work for the City of Evanston. I think the park system is in better shape. … I love the City of Evanston, and I will very much miss it.”

Mr. Bobkiewicz also praised Economic Development Coordinator Ms. Plante, who is leaving the City to become Economic Development director in Winnetka. “Cindy, you’ve done a great job,” he said. Mayor Stephen Hagerty said Ms. Plante served on the staff to the Harley Clarke committee, which he chaired several years ago, and he thanked her for her service.

Ms. Plante said, “It’s been an honor to be a part of this local government.”

Litigation Costs

Bills listed under the Insurance Fund reflected costs of several lawsuits against the City or specific employees. There is ongoing litigation in James Park over whether the utility companies NICOR Gas and Commonwealth Edison have contaminated the water. The law firm of Jeep & Blazer, the City’s outside counsel for that litigation, received $867,511.73 for the period ending Nov. 13. All told, the City paid more than $900,000 from the insurance fund for this period, most of it for legal fees.

Water and Salt

Water also figured in the two-year, $20 million clearwell project upon which the City is embarking. The City will dismantle and reconstruct a 5 million-gallon reservoir near the water-treatment plant, located on an easement from Northwestern University. The City anticipates it will receive a loan of $20 million from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency loan fund. The City will execute a contract to construct the clearwell – that is, the reservoir for treated water – with Thieneman Construction of Westfield, Ind.

Road salt for the winter sold to each of the two School Districts will net the City some profit, as the 10% surcharge to the School Districts will marginally cover the City’s costs.

Housing Matters

Housing came before the Council members, who approved an ordinance mandating both the registration of rental units and a fine for renting units without having paid the registration fee. The rental fee is $200, which covers the initial inspection and registration of rental units, including accessory dwelling units such as coach house. There will be an amnesty period, as yet unspecified, after which the failure to register will incur a fine of $75-$375.

The residential complex at 1571 Maple Ave. received a reprieve from the City so that it could provide fewer parking spaces and one fewer affordable dwelling unit. The City code mandated 101 parking spaces but the City has reduced the requirement to 55 spaces, leased from the City in a downtown garage.

Although the project was built before the City passed its inclusionary housing ordinance, which mandates affordable units in most residential projects, the project will have one affordable studio to be rented for 50% of the area median income (AMI). That adjustment from the previously planned allocation of two units, each to be rented at 100% of the AMI came because the manager had difficulty renting the affordable units.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, again voiced her objection on developers creating onsite affordable units rather than contributing to the City’s Affordable Housing Fund.

“I’ve argued that it’s a mistake to put affordable its in downtown projects. I think we need to discuss the financial opportunity the Affordable Housing Fund has if we allow developers to pay. … We’re going to see this happen again.”

Aldermen also approved ordinances that will allow the City to collect revenue from short-term rentals. One ordinance added bed-and-breakfast establishments to the list of units to be taxed as “hotels and motels;” a second ordinance increased the licensing fee for vacation rentals by owner.

A long debate about a proposal to build a house on a small lot in Northwest Evanston ended with an acknowledged need for aldermen to discuss how to handle non-conforming small lots in residential areas. The proposal in question, for a spec house at 2626 Reese Ave., came to Council with conflicting recommendations from two City committees: The Design and Project Review Committee recommended that Council approve the new house with its requests for steep zoning variations, but the Zoning Board of Appeals recommended that Council deny the requests.

Many neighbors spoke in opposition to the proposed home, and the developer, William James, who has built several spec houses in Evanston, joked to Council that it was not until he attended recent meetings about his proposal that he knew what a bad person he was.

Aldermen were divided over whether to approve or deny the requests, so they put the matter on hold, to be heard at a later date. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked the neighbors who attended the meeting to oppose the house why they did not band together to buy the property jointly.

Food and Entertainment

Evanstonians will have two more places to relax with an alcoholic drink: Tuko Cantina, 817 University Place,and Theo Ubique, the cabaret-style theater opening next month on Howard St.

Citizen Comment

The 45-minute citizen comment period that preceded the city business potion of the Council meeting reflected Evanston’s mosaic of concerns. Few residents spoke about themselves but about their concern for the community as a whole. They focused on proposed budget cuts they felt would harm the vulnerable or tear the social fabric.

Robin Robinson, Roger Williams, Alyce Barry and Neil Gambow were but four of the many who voiced their concerns about the proposal to dismantle the youth and young adult programs team. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has proposed moving Kevin Brown, who manages the Youth and Young Adult programs, into a different department, where he would lead workforce development. Among the concerns residents said they fell about this  move is are that the team, which has received national recognition for its work in helping at-risk youth transition from street life to education and careers, would be less effective were it to be broken up; that Pastor Ken Cherry, manager of Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center, does not have the requisite skills for the new position, that Mr. Brown is being marginalized and that, in his new position, he would have no budget and no staff.

Ms. Robinson said, “Pastor Cherry has Fleetwood-Jourdain. Let him have it” and let Mr. Brown continue in his current position.

Mr. Williams took exception to Mr. Bobkiewicz’s saying that Mr. Brown’s new position in workforce development would be a promotion. “He [Mr. Brown] will be promoted from having six staff members and a $1.4 million budget to having no budget and no staff. What kind of promotion is that?”

Ms. Barry said, “It is a terrible idea to separate the Youth and Young Adult Program Manager from his staff.”

Neil Gambow has worked with Mr. Brown on workforce development projects and who heads the Mayor’s workforce development initiative, Elevate Evanston. He said, “Workforce development is a process – it’s not a one-shot deal. ‘Workforce development’ is what Kevin is doing.”

Daniel Ruen, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, spoke as a member of the ad-hoc group Prioritize Our People, formed out of concerns about certain measures in the proposed City budget. He said the budget process was not transparent and said. “We can do better.”

Margaret Rothe, a social worker at School District 65 said the first phone call she makes when she sees a child or family in a desperate situation is to Mr. Brown. “I would have lost a lot of kids a lot earlier if it had not been for Kevin and his staff,” she said.

Judy Kemp and Toby Sachs spoke to the partial refunding of arts programs in Evanston. “We are delighted to see that grants funding is restored in the latest budget,” Ms. Kemp said. “We hope you will also set aside money for an arts coordinator.”

After her father had left Council chambers Meredith Dorneker, Mr. Dorneker’s daughter, candidly addressed what had been rumored: that her father was being forced into retirement. “My dad has devoted over 30 years to the City of Evanston. Unfortunately, I know my dad is not leaving the City of Evanston at the time and on the terms he wanted to.”

Other speakers voiced opposition to the new Robert Crown Center because of the expense to residents.

Joey Rodger, who leads the Evanston Friends Meeting, told the Council, “We have put you all in an impossible situation. Keeping everyone happy isn’t possible. Thank you for the time you spend on the budget. Thank you for listening to people’s concerns.”