Aldermen may return to square one, keeping their current compensation package – and full family health insurance in place for the next City Council, foregoing a Citizens compensation committee as well as one alderman’s recommendation for changes to the system.

Council members are expected to decide the issue at the Nov. 9 City Council meeting, setting a compensation package for members of the next City Council, to be elected next year.

At the Oct. 26 meeting, the City’s Human Resources Division Manager Jennifer Lin proposed three options for aldermen to consider in establishing the compensation package for the next City Council elected in 2021.

Ms. Lin’s recommended options did not include the recommendation of the Citizens Compensation Committee established by the Mayor earlier this year to propose options.

The members of that group, citing the pandemic and sacrifices City employees were making, recommended that there be no salary increase during the first half of the next Council members’ four-years terms and that aldermen pay for their own family health care services – though they would still receive subsidized individual health insurance.

The changes would have resulted in savings of nearly $440,000 over four years for the cash-strapped City, the mayoral-appointed group estimated.

The position of alderman is part-time under Evanston’s Council/Manager system of government, with many holding well-paying outside jobs.

Aldermen have cited the demands of the job – attending many meetings and dealing with issues in a diverse urban community – as distinguishing an Evanston aldermanic job from those of more homogeneous communities.

Aldermen – some who have already announced for re-election and could benefit from a new system – quickly narrowed down to two options at their Oct. 26 meeting.

They moved away from a third option that would have allowed them to draw a straight salary of $37,800, paying for medical insurance coverage at their own choosing.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, had argued in support of such a system, declaring the current system is discriminatory.

As one of the few aldermen only taking the individual health benefits insurance package, she receives far less – close to $20,000 – in compensation than do her colleagues who receive the City’s family health package, she estimated.

She questioned, “How we as a Council can look at that and say, “Equal pay for equal work’? We should be receiving equal pay for equal work,” she said, speaking at the Oct. 5 Rules Committee meeting, which was held virtual because of social distancing rules.

The other two options were leaving the current compensation model in place and offering a salary plus a modest stipend for insurance.

Under Option 1, aldermen would continue to draw an annual salary of $15,990 with the City’s contributing 85%-90% of medical insurance costs.

“Assuming all nine aldermen elect PPO [(Preferred Provider Organization] family coverage, the City’s total annual cost would be $339,805.80; this is the highest cost to the City,” wrote Ms. Lin in her memo, breaking down the various options.

She recommended a less expensive option: an annual salary of $15,990, combined with an allowance of $1,400 a month or $16,800 a year.

The $1,400 a month is equivalent to the cost of HMO [Health Maintenance Organization] family coverage, Ms. Lin pointed out in her memo.

“Using this proposal, the total annual cost to the City would be $295,110 a year,” about $45,000 less than the first option, she said.

In discussion at the Oct. 26 meeting, Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, argued against going with that option, maintaining “it is not workable in terms of fairness. And I would prefer to stay with what we have [salary plus PPO], which means everyone gets the same salary, and everyone has the same choice of insurance benefit.”

In support of her preference for the current model, Ald. Wynne offered as an example someone just elected to office, with several children, and who needs a particular doctor for whatever reason.

“The idea that then you have to pay $5,000 more a year [for a PPO] – that’s not acceptable to me,” she said.

Ald. Rainey, meanwhile, expressed disappointment that the proposals the Council was leaning toward did not address her issue.

“This Council has refused to acknowledge that people making almost $38,000 a year [the value of salary plus family health insurance]  are making so much more than those of us who are not married and who do not have children are making,  and there it’s just so wrong and so unfair,” she said.

She expressed hope aldermen would rethink their position before their inalienable vote, scheduled for the Nov. 9 City Council meeting.

Bob Seidenberg

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.