The next City Clerk and 10 members of the next City Council – who will take office in May, 2021 – could be expected to pick up their own family health care costs. The change could save the City close to $500,000 over four years, members of the ad-hoc Compensation Committee said, favoring the move.

At the Compensation Committee’s May 14 meeting, in which members participated remotely because of social-distancing constraints, members backed a formula that would continue paying elected officials a base salary, with the City’s continuing to pick up the bulk of Council members’ individual health insurance, including premium plans if that was their choice.

But Council members who would still wish to extend the City’s health-care plan to cover their own families would do so at their own cost, committee members agreed.

In proposing the change, committee members were looking at “addressing institutional inequality that has existed for years,” explained retired Seventh Ward Alderman Cheryl Wollin, chairing the group, during discussion “It is a radical change from the usual structure. But we think it’s time, and especially in these economic times when we can save the City a half million dollars, this is the time to do it.”

The citizens committee, appointed by the mayor, meets in the months prior to Evanston’s quadrennial election, recommending compensation for the  mayor, the aldermen and the City Clerk – who will take office after the election next April.

The current aldermen, some of whom could be affected by the changes if they are re-elected, have the final vote on the compensation package.

The mayor and aldermen are part-time employees under the City’s council-manager form of government. The mayor currently receives a base salary of $25,317 while aldermen receive $15,990, and the City Clerk, a full time employee, receives $64,120.

In discussion May 14, Compensation Committee members took note of the disparity in compensation currently between the mayor and aldermen who added on the City’s family health care to their coverage and those who chose to receive only individual health insurance.

Six of the current nine aldermen as well as the Mayor currently receive family health care through the City, according to the spreadsheets prepared by Committee member Rebecca Berneck for the group.

If the practice were to continue with the next Council, the difference over four years between those receiving family health care ($55,858) and those receiving only individual insurance ($4,129) would be significant, according to the figures.

In supporting the change, Compensation Committee members acknowledged the City’s current financial situation. City employees are scheduled to begin taking unpaid furloughs starting next week ,as officials address a shortfall between $10 and $20 million because of lost revenues due to the novel coronavirus.

Employees, including the City’s major unions, have deferred pay increases in wage contracts agreed upon before the pandemic.

“We are in an unbelievable time. I think we have opportunity to do something if we feel it’s the right thing to do,” said Committee member Omar Brown. 

“I will be honest, the glaring number that sticks out to me is the fact that we can save the City X amount of dollars over four years, is incredible — when you think about the impact on the community – [with] that alone, we may be able to save people’s jobs that may be laid off for furloughs,” he said.

“You work for a corporation, you work for a small business, whatever, this is just not the time [for increases],” Rick Marsh, another member, said at another point in the discussion.

Ms. Berneck acknowledged that “some people may say that it’s [the proposed compensation] ‘not enough – I’m going to stop doing this because of this [change],’ and that would be a risk of losing good people,” she said. “But if we still want to go ahead with the intent of making everything equal in financially difficult times than this is what it would look like,” she said about the figures.

Ms. Wollin also pointed to a survey of 15 surrounding communities, which showed as Evanston officials as the highest compensated.

The Compensation Committee’s other recommendations were in line with salary packages accepted by employee groups in contracts approved before the pandemic.

Under the group’s recommendations, base salary increases would be zero percent for newly elected officials in years 2021 and 2022, with increases in the following years to match those granted to non-union City employees in their contracts.

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.