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Just in case you’ve heard any whispered conversations about Evanston changing its current form of government – council-manager – be assured the idea doesn’t have much support from council members, according to the discussion at Monday night’s Rules committee meeting.
Council members discussed the issue and wanted to send a clear message to Evanston residents that they support the current form of city government.
Additionally, the committee voted to bring ranked-choice ballots before the City Council for a vote, which if passed would make Evanston the first city in Illinois to adopt the measure.
The Rules Committee is made up of nine council members and the mayor.
Changing form of government
Council member Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, told the committee he wanted to discuss potentially changing Evanston’s form of government in response to a comment made during an NAACP candidate forum.
The last City Manager, Braithwaite said, put in his contract that the city would discuss alternate governing styles, so the Second Ward Council member felt compelled to discuss the matter in public.
City attorney Nicholas Cummings gave a presentation about how the Illinois Constitution allows cities to determine their form of government through referendum but must choose between one of four provided under Illinois Law: council-mayor, commission, strong mayor and the council-manager, which Evanston uses.
It was immediately clear, though, that other council members had no interest in a change of governing style.
“I’ve been a very strong supporter of the form of government that we currently have,” said Third Ward Council Member Melissa Wynne. “It is one that was established more than 70 years ago, at the behest of the League of Women Voters, if my memory is correct.” Evanston, having a professional manager who is trained, provides the city with the “highest quality government,” she added.
Fourth Ward Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma said he “does not support changing our system of government. I do support doing a better job with the system that we currently have. … But number one, if we were to change, that would just create a cloud of uncertainty and confusion and chaos for an indefinite period of time.”
Braithwaite ended the conversation by saying he wanted to go on the record saying he does not support a strong mayor. He said, “We’re all firm in support of our current form of government … I want to signal [that] to our residents, as well as signal to any other person is we’re currently searching for a city manager.”
At the meeting, recently appointed Ninth Ward Council member Juan Geracaris recommended the Rules Committee adopt rank-choice voting.
“People tend to vote strategically or hold their nose and vote for the lesser of three evils,” Geracartis said. “And with rank-choice voting, people can vote for their favorite regardless of whether or not they think we’re going to win,” giving people a stronger voice in democracy and streamlining elections by eliminating the need for runoffs.
Council members Nieuwsma, Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, and Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, all enthusiastically supported the idea and encouraged passing it by the end of the meeting.
“As someone who has a lot of family in the New York metropolitan area, New York did this,” Wynne said. “And did it extremely successfully. As you said, Evanston can do this, this isn’t that difficult to understand.”
Council member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, first pushed back against the idea, saying a decision of this magnitude should be discussed before a vote is taken and there should be a basic level of community engagement. “We don’t have any information in our packet about how this is performed. And other areas, especially for disenfranchised voters,” Burns said.
Ultimately, the committee decided to unanimously pass the measure to the City Council, with the expectation that it include intense community education of the matter.
“Wherever this comes up next, if it’s at the next council meeting, or if it’s held over until our next rules meeting, I would like that we have a comprehensive presentation about the impact of this form of elections,” Burns said.