The Reparations Committee is set to hash out the possibility of cash payment reparations during a special meeting this Thursday, March 16. The committee will be meeting online to continue the cash payment debate that began at its regular monthly meeting on March 2.
The city hasn’t released the meeting agenda yet, but the committee agreed March 2 to discuss the possibility of amending the restorative housing program to allow cash payments for all ancestors.
The city is required to post the agenda at least 48 hours before the 9 a.m. Thursday meeting. You can register for the Zoom meeting online.
At the March 2 meeting, committee Chair Robin Rue Simmons made a motion for the committee to give cash payments to Kenneth and Sheila Wideman. The siblings were the only ancestor recipients out of the 16 initially selected for the $25,000 grants to not use their funds.
Devon Reid, 8th Ward City Council Member and Reparations Committee member, was the only person on the committee to question why cash payments couldn’t be an option for all ancestors. He sought to amend Rue Simmons’ motion but no other committee member seconded his motion.
“I think we would love to see the language that is to be amended, to understand exactly if is it a fourth option, in the event you can’t satisfy homeownership eligibility,” Rue Simmons said.
“So we are there, Council Member Reid. I think that it would make more sense to move forward so that we can satisfy the two that are in question, and then learn more about how that cash benefit will be available to others.”
City Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings wasn’t present during this discussion on March 2. The committee wanted him present at the next meeting for further discussion of cash payment reparations.
The city’s Law Department has long said that recipients of cash payments would be responsible for paying taxes on the grants, according to the city’s reparations website. The Law Department, however, has evolved from its initial stance, Cummings has said.
In a March 9 email to the RoundTable, Cummings wouldn’t say if he advised the committee to extend cash payment reparations to all or whether offering cash payments to only two ancestors could lead to lawsuits.
“The Law Department has left the determination regarding cash payment to the Committee and is committed to aiding in the implementation of such a program in a way that will withstand constitutional muster,” Cummings said in his email. “With respect to potential lawsuits, the City is either threatened with suit or sued regularly. Should a claim arise, the Law Department will deal with it as it does with other claims and litigation.”
Paying reparations out of the general fund is unconstitutional. Money in the general fund is for the benefit of all Evanstonians. The city’s legal council has stated this in advice to the city council more than a year ago.
At the May 2022 council meeting City Attorney Nicholas Cummings advised the council to not use general funds because that money is designated for all tax-paying citizens. Using it could violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and open up the program to legal challenges.
“Mandatory spending is meant for city operations that benefit the general welfare and public. [To use these funds] opens up the net for those that can claim discrimination on the basis of equal protection, as an Evanston resident who is expected to receive the benefit of certain dollars,” Cummings said.
He added: “If those dollars are taken away to give direct cash payment, for example, to Black residents, there is the possibility that that person has standing to challenge the programs.”