An alderman is urging colleagues to adopt a policy on whether events and programs in the City of Evanston should bear the name of elected officials.

At the Jan. 21 City Council Rules Committee meeting Alderman Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, raised questions about attaching the names of public officials to publicly funded events.

Particularly in the last few years the City has led off with the name of the mayor as the sponsor of high profile events, sending out announcements highlighting “Mayor Hagerty’s Summer Youth Employment Job Fair,” “Mayor Hagerty’s Holiday Food, Book, and Toy Drive” and “Mayor Hagerty’s Discretionary Projects Fund.”

Ald. Suffredin said the City should pay particular attention to that practice with the election season approaching later this year.

Generally, “I have an issue with public money being used to promote one particular person, and I think it should be eliminated across the board,” Ald. Suffredin said at the meeting. “But, particularly, we should make sure we have a dark period once petitions are getting circulated.”

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, also expressed concern about the practice, recalling working as a volunteer at the toy drive this past holiday season and wondering about “a plethora” of T-shirts left over with the Mayor’s name on them.

“I mean it’s not a huge expense in terms of funds, but what do we do next year?” she asked. “I think they [the T-shirts] had a date on them and what if Mayor Hagerty chooses not to run again — we’re not using them two years later.”

Mayor Hagerty, also a member of the Rules Committee, expressed surprise that the issue was raised.

“This has been around a long time – ‘The Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, the Mayor’s Food [Book and Toy] Drive,’” Mr. Hagerty said.

The Mayor’s Discretionary Fund (the reference was in the body of a City release) was not as such “but was $150,000 that we hadn’t yet allocated and we’re going to allocate,” he said.

The mayor said he did not realize until he took office in 2017 that the programs “take on the mayor’s name.”

“And what I learned since being mayor is the mayor literally solicits donations and everything” for the mayor’s Food, Book and Toy Drive. They [staff] send out a bunch of letters to different organizations in town.

“The same thing goes for the employers in the summer job program — asking employers to participate in that,” he said. “So I think that’s part of that and why the mayor’s name becomes attached to those programs. I think that attaching the mayor’s name – whoever the mayor is, as a person in the community, that’s valuable for those programs.”

Ald. Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, spoke in support, noting that the late Mayor Lorraine Morton’s connection with the jobs program.

 “She was very much a proponent of that, making sure it was properly funded when it came under attack several times during the budget process “ she said. “It continued under Mayor Tisdahl, she said, “and I think there is a tradition [ the usse of the mayor’s name]. It conveys the sense of a person – that there is a person who is promoting this and will do some work on it, and I agree with that in terms of the holiday, food and book drive as well.”

A review of past City releases and newspaper articles did not turn up the actual name of a mayor until 2015, when “Mayor Tisdahl’s Summer Youth Employment Program “ is mentioned in the body of a release.

The program is referred to as the “Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment” program in a 2008 release when Mayor Morton was in the final year of her term but her name was not used with it.

In a number of releases, the Mayor’s name is interchanged with “Summer Youth Employment” program including recent releases.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said she also agreed that having the Mayor’s name on such programs “does personalize it and gives it the likelihood that it will be more effective.”

On the other hand, Ald. Suffredin “raises an interesting point about the timing of the holiday drive,” she said, “coming at a time when we’re all potential running for public office” [in the municipal election of April 2021].

Further, “I would draw a line on T-shirts and those kinds of things,” she said.

As for the T-shirts and such naming practices, Mayor Hagerty said, “I didn’t even know these other things had the mayor’s name attached to it.

“I just want to be clear about it,” said Mr. Hagerty, who runs an emergency consulting firm with offices around the country, “I did not take office and all of a sudden want Steve Hagerty’s name on everything.”

“We have real problems in this community,” the Mayor said, noting a discussion on affordable housing was scheduled later on the City Council’s agenda.

This particular one, he said, “is a solution in search of a problem, in my opinion.”

But Ald. Suffredin maintained that it is a public problem that needed to be addressed. 

Other governmental bodies have taken steps to attach the names of public officials with tax-supported programs, particularly around election seasons, he said.

County funds, for instance,  cannot be used to print or mail an official’s newsletters or brochures during election season (Jan. 1 to Primary Election Day and Sept. 1 to General Election Day), if the official is a candidate, he said.

In the case of the publicly funded toy drive, for instance, “I just don’t think we should have our name on it unless it’s your money – you’re buying all the toys, you’re paying all the people going around collecting them, and you’re paying for all the marketing costs,” he said.

Particularly, with the City soon entering its election season, “you should have a policy in place,” he argued.

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.