On Jan. 13, City Council considered whether to add new members to the Evanston Reparations Subcommittee. Going into the meeting, Alderman Robin Rue-Simmons, 5th Ward, and Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, were the only members, although Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, attended and participated in the Subcommittee’s first meeting on Jan. 10.

Council unanimously appointed Ald. Braithwaite to serve as the third member of the subcommittee, and decided not to add any additional members. The expectation is that the subcommittee will gather necessary input from the community and from experts to assist them to form a proposal on how to use the Reparations Fund created by City Council in November.

As part of the City’s 2020 Budget, City Council created the Reparations Fund and committed to use up to $10 million in tax revenues collected from the sale of recreational cannabis to support reparations in Evanston.

In a statement issued on Dec. 19, the City said the Subcommittee on Reparations “will work with residents, City staff and experts to explore and identify programs and opportunities to be supported by the Reparations Fund, including initiatives related to workforce development, entrepreneurship, home ownership, education and infrastructure. The process has just begun to consider many important issues, including the scope of funding opportunities, criteria and qualifications for participation, and level of funding.”

At the Jan. 13 City Council meeting, Mayor Stephen Hagerty kicked off the discussion about whether to add additional people to the Reparations Subcommittee, saying, “There’s two really different parts to any reparations program, in my opinion. One is do you have a revenue source? The work that this City Council did was really novel to designate the first $10 million of cannabis revenues into a reparations fund.

“The second part is really complex and really difficult, and it needs, in my opinion, a lot of thought by a bunch of different people. I am supportive of the idea that this committee be expanded, and I think it ought to include and be a multidisciplinary group, including somebody who has a legal background, a law background, including people that have expertise with some of the different areas where we may be looking to make these investments, whether that be entrepreneurship, or housing, or other areas.”

Ald. Rue-Simmons said she agreed that the subcommittee have a lawyer from the City’s legal team. She said the subcommittee has already reached out to community leaders and experts in different disciplines to weigh in and give feedback to the subcommittee in an advisory capacity. She added that several different organizations have offered to help.

She said, “There’s so many areas of expertise that we need, so to appoint everybody to the committee just won’t be efficient. We can do outreach to find experts and that will be ongoing.

“If we could keep it small and we have the opportunity to invite input and have organizations that want to come and give us a proposal “that makes the most sense. It gives us the opportunity to actually get things done but bring in the expertise we need.”

She said at its first meeting, the Subcommittee discussed focusing on housing or homeownership, business development for the black community, and addressing trauma. She said she would like the Subcommittee to be able to come back to City Council with recommendations that could be implemented in early fall.

Ald. Braithwaite said he was working with a deadline of getting a policy in place by September. He said, “I’d be concerned about expanding the committee to a large number where we have to start worrying about quorums in a very condensed period of time. Right now the challenge is to just get enough input to bring something to City Council that we can vote on. Keep it nimble. Keep it small.

“If you want to add two or three different voices then I would support Dr. Alvin Tillery at the top of my list.” Dr. Tillery is an Associate Professor at Northwestern University.

Ald. Rainey said she thought the Subcommittee should be a working group. She said there were already pockets of people in the community discussing reparations, and the Subcommittee could seek input from these group. She added that the Subcommittee could seek advice from a development specialist to help raise additional money for reparations, and from a health care specialist, housing or mortgage lending experts, and others.

“I think we’re on the right track I would encourage anyone to come meet with us. I think we’re doing the best anybody could expect us to do at this time.”

Ald. Wilson said he would support appointing Ald. Braithwaite to the Subcommittee. He said what he was hearing is that the Subcommittee would reach out and find the experts they needed to assist them to get to the next step.

Ald. Wynn said the legal department was already stretched thin and noted that the ACLU had reached out to the City and volunteered to provide pro bono legal services. Mayor Haggerty said he thought if the ACLU was willing to do so, the same lawyer should be present at each of the Subcommittee’s meetings to provide continuity.

He said if a recommendation came to City Council that raised any legal issues, Council could have it be reviewed by another lawyer.

The Reparation Subcommittee’s meeting schedule is available here.

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...