City Council members and Harley Clarke Mansion community supporters appear to be proceeding down separate tracks on future uses for the historic lakefront building.

Members of the Harley Clarke Community staged a successful public participation session Jan. 24, attracting a full turnout of citizens to explore future uses for the building.

The group has scheduled a follow-up meeting on Feb. 28 and the public to join in developing funding sources and opportunities for the ideas generated at the Jan. 24 meeting.

Meanwhile, Council members – none in attendance at the citizens meeting – are planning their own meeting for next steps on the issue.

At the Jan. 28 City Council meeting, Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, referred to a letter officials had received previously from best-selling author Audrey Niffenegger, in which she proposed a book and art center at the mansion.

Ald. Wilson requested that the City Manager meet with Ms. Niffenegger  and  determine if there is a proposal to be put forth for the building’s future  use.

Responding, Ald. Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said if officials are going to look at Ms. Niffenegger’s proposal, they should look “at any other offers on the table.”

Ald. Wilson said he did not regard Ms. Niffenegger’s proposal as an offer but was just interested in finding out more about the idea.

At the same meeting and again on Feb. 4, Mayor Stephen Hagerty said Council members should hold their own discussion on where they want to go on the issue.

“The community is moving forward [saying] ‘Listen to us,’” said Mayor Hagerty. “At the end of day it’s the folks up here at this dais who are the stewards of this City asset.”

 Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said her preference would have been to wait and let the issue settle down, but observed that “the community is sort of proceeding without us.”

She spoke in support of getting some feeling from other Council members on what they feel next steps should be. “Whatever we do we should open it up to everyone,” she said.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, suggested a different course. “Any of us could go to [one of the community meetings] and talk to them and hear what they have to say. I don’t think we have to bring their community meeting to the dais.”

Mayor Hagerty suggested Council members leave it to the City Manager to slot the discussion in a future agenda.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.