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An email that went out to a wide collection of community leaders March 2 is calling for a “counterpoint” to combat the efforts of some groups promoting candidates against incumbents in the April 6 municipal election, raising concerns their ideas would undermine good government in Evanston.
The email, under the name of former Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover, invited the community leaders to participate in a meeting to be held over Zoom today to discuss efforts to be taken within the next 30 days leading up to the April 6 municipal election “to ensure the city continues to be led by independent-minded aldermen – Council members who listen to a variety of opinions and then use their good, independent judgment about what they believe is best for our whole community; who study the issues and base their decisions in facts and data; who advocate strongly for the City and their wards; who stand against those who use threats and intimidation; and who work effectively, respectfully, and collaboratively with their colleagues to bring about change.”
It called for a “counterpoint” to what was described as a “concerted effort to undermine our local government by a small and determined group of residents, organized under several banners (perhaps OPAL, Community Alliance for Better Government, Reclaim Evanston).”
The letter pointed to some of the ideas mentioned by those groups and their members, including replacing Evanston’s current City Manager form of government with a strong-mayor form of government, eliminating the City’s Home Rule status, putting the City’s Freedom of Information process in the hands of an elected official, and replacing recently appointed City Manager Erika Storlie.
OPAL, the Organization for Positive Action and Leadership, whose board members include Ninth Ward Alderman Cicely Fleming and former City Community Services Manager Kevin Brown, issued a response to the email, charging it contained misinformation statement about the group’s efforts.
“Over the past six months, OPAL met with almost all candidates for public office. Every current office-holder had an opportunity to have an informal conversation with OPAL Board members and participate in our public forums that were broadcast via Facebook and Zoom in late January,” the group’s statement said. “In making our endorsements, we chose to support candidates who we believe have the best interests of all Evanston residents and recognize the disproportionate weight that their decisions have on Evanston’s Black residents.
“While it is true that we were deeply disappointed by the current City Council majority’s shameless efforts to hurriedly appoint the City Manager without a public process last summer,” the group statement continued, “OPAL has never called for her removal, nor any of the other policies suggested by the group seeking to smear OPAL’s name and work.”
Ms. Grover could not be reached on March 3 to comment further on the email.
However, several other community members whose names appeared at the end of the email said they supported the call for a meeting to share concerns.
“I want to hear what people are saying,” said Delores Holmes, former Fifth Ward alderman.
She said she looked to the meeting “as a bunch of people getting together and getting some feedback so we’re all in the same page.
“I have no idea where it’s going to go, even if it’s something I want to do.”
She did acknowledge she shared some of the concerns expressed in the email, pointing to the Evanston NAACP candidates’ forum the night before for a recent example.
At the forum, candidates were asked whether they favor the City’s current council-manager form of government or would prefer a mayor-council system, where an elected mayor has the power to hire and fire.
The City moved from the mayor-council form to council manager form of government in 1951. The League of Women Voters was one of the groups championing the move away from elected officials to a professional staff who ideally would carry out their duties apart from partisan politics.
Seventh Ward candidate Mary Rosinski, challenging incumbent Alderman Eleanor Revelle, one of the candidates answering, said she would like to explore the mayor-council form of system.
“I’d like to have a professional mayor, full time, pay him or her appropriately to do the job,” she said, “and the City Council, [do the] voting on moving forward on policies. I think we could get a good City Manager to help the mayor do something, but since the City Manager is not elected, I don’t feel like there’s a whole lot of accountability.”
Clare Kelly, challenging incumbent Judy Fiske in the downtown First Ward, was also among those who favored exploring the issue.
“I also think we need to look at the infrastructure right now, what’s happened, that we have literally squandered tens of millions of dollars in these last four years that have not benefited anybody.
“We need to figure out why we are paying our City Manager more money than the Governor of Illinois; she makes more money than the governor of California, more than mayor of Chicago,” she said. “We need to look at all this, If we don’t understand what’s the infrastructure and what happened that got us to where we are right now where we’ve been raising taxes over 5% a year for the last five years.”
Dick Peach, the former Evanston Chamber of Commerce President, also among the names on the March 2 email, said he was also looking forward to getting some conversation going among people.
“ I’m not supporting anybody in particular,” he said about the election, but with Covid and other challenges, the City is going to need a broad based approach, and “ we have to protect against special interests.”