Neighbors of the Margarita Inn have individually filed complaints with the city alleging two members of the City Council should have recused themselves May 8 when they voted to introduce Connections for the Homeless’ request to establish a permanent homeless shelter at the Margarita site.

Don Durkes, one of the neighbors, confirmed Friday that he filed a complaint May 18 with the city’s special counsel, alleging Council Members Eleanor Revelle (7th Ward) and Devon Reid (8th Ward) were in violation of the city’s Ethics Code when they voted to support the measure moving forward.

The complaint against Revelle was based on her reportedly large financial donations to Connections. For Reid, it was based on his acceptance of monetary assistance from the group while he was fighting an eviction.

Durkes’ complaint maintained that “this is a clear and unacceptable abuse of power and violation of the Code of Ethics, which is in place to keep the very body that taxes, rules, and controls our City in adherence with the highest standards of comportment.”

Durkes said other neighbors had filed complaints previously.

“Even though this is an issue that I’m involved with, it doesn’t matter,” Durkes said, maintaining the concerns would apply to any similar issue before the council.

“It’s incredibly important to have an unbiased and impartial City Council.”

Connections, a homeless advocacy group, is seeking special use approval from the city to establish a permanent homeless shelter at the Margarita, 1566 Oak Ave.

Seventh Ward Council Member Eleanor Revelle. Credit: Richard Cahan

On May 8, Revelle and Reid voted in favor of a motion to support introduction of the proposal, joining the majority in a 6-2 vote. A final vote on the issue is expected at this Monday’s City Council meeting.

During discussion before the May 8 vote, Revelle asked the city’s legal staff to comment on the question of whether she has a conflict of interest based on her donations to Connections.

Deputy City Attorney Alexandra Ruggie responded that the department had reviewed the allegations based on the city and county financial disclosure requirements.

“At this time a donation is not part of that financial disclosure,” Ruggie said, “and does not create a conflict of interest.”

Reid also addressed the conflict of interest issue before his May 8 vote. He acknowledged that he had received rental assistance from Connections. But he said that should not disqualify him. He said his vote was intended “to stand up for any future council member who may be low income or in their term becomes low income and needs rental assistance. That should not disqualify a council member from participating in the system.”

Neighbors lodged their complaints with the city’s special counsel, who is empowered under the city’s ethics ordinance to determine whether there is jurisdiction to prosecute a charge for violation of the city’s Ethics Code. 

Donations by Revelle, aid to Reid cited

Durkes’ complaint alleged that Revelle was in violation of section 1-10-4 of the city’s Ethics Code, which pertains to conflicts of interest and standards of conduct.

City code states that “employees shall perform their duties with impartiality and without prejudice or bias in their service to the residents of the City. No employee shall grant or make available to any individual, including other covered persons, any consideration, treatment, advantage or favor beyond that which is available to every other individual.”

Durkes’ complaint states that Revelle should have recused herself from the vote because she has “a long-established personal relationship with Connections for the Homeless” because she has contributed “tens of thousands of dollars” to the group.

“While these contributions may be laudable, they evidence a very strong personal interest in Connections’ mission, operations, and continued growth,” the complaint states. “To vote on Connections’ special use request is an outright conflict of interest and, if not an outright conflict, to at least give rise to the appearance of a conflict.”

The complaint compares council members to judges and says Revelle should have recused herself from the vote.

“Due to her close relationship to the organization and investment (through her donations), she has a clear conflict of interest and cannot demonstrate her ability to remain impartial as a member of City Council – a legislative body serving in a quasi- judicial capacity,” it states.

“For example, a judge who has a close relationship with an organization and is a major donor to that organization is required to recuse him or herself from a hearing matter related to the organization due to potential conflict of interest, impartiality, and fairness concerns. Similarly, Ms. Revelle should have abstained from discussion related to the special use permit for Margarita Inn and recused herself from voting on the matter.”

Eighth Ward Council Member Devon Reid. Credit: Richard Cahan

In his complaint filed with the special counsel against Reid, Durkes also tied it to conflicts of interest and standards of conduct in the code.

“Connections for the Homeless is one of many organizations that provides rental assistance,” the complaint states. “Reid abused his power as a Council member by requesting funds from Connections for the Homeless instead of any other entity which was not before the City Council requesting a Special Use Permit. By taking emergency housing assistance money in the amount of $7,050 from Connections for the Homeless while their application for a special use permit was pending, Councilmember Reid violated Ethics Rules because he voted even though he had a conflict of interest, or at the very least, an appearance of conflict of interest, which he failed to eliminate.”

The system for ethics complaints 

Members of the former City Council approved a revised Ethics Code in 2021, establishing for the first time a special counsel for investigation and prosecution of ethics complaints.

Members of the current council approved Mayor Daniel Biss’ appointment of Steve Elrod to that position in December 2021.

Under the Ethics Code, any person may file a formal ethics complaint in writing within 30 days after the alleged violation has occurred. Rather than going directly to the city’s citizen Board of Ethics, under the revised code any such complaints go to the special counsel.

The special counsel then makes a preliminary jurisdictional determination as to whether sufficient facts exist to constitute a violation of the Ethics Code.

If the special counsel determines that there is no jurisdiction to prosecute a charge for an ethics violation, the case does not go forward. If jurisdiction and cause are found to prosecute, an administrative hearing is held, in accord with the revised code.

The hearing officer is then to determine whether the alleged violation is sustained and, if so, make a recommendation regarding a fine. The code then calls for the special counsel to transmit the written findings and record of proceedings to the Board of Ethics.

The Board of Ethics then would review the transcript of the hearing and the evidence presented. It can then issue a written order affirming or reversing the findings.

To date, though, the Board of Ethics has received no cases since Elrod’s appointment as special counsel in December 2021.

A Margarita Inn neighbor had filed a complaint with Elrod in February, maintaining that because Reid had accepted rental assistance from Connections, he had no place voting on the group’s zoning application.

Elrod’s response to that neighbor mainly dealt with disclosure. Because at the time Reid had not voted or taken any other official legislative action on the special use permit, the Ethics Code had not been violated, it was determined.

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.

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  1. I applaud the Council for taking this long and much needed step to address the lack of housing for those not as fortunate as most of us. The City (government and citizens) have wrestled with how to help our homelessness residents for decades. The homeless aren’t going to just disappear.

    I’m proud the the Council has acted to make peoples lives easier rather treat them punitively.

  2. A viable, vibrant and safe downtown. There are many housing options and a keast two houses taken off the tax rolls for YWCA around 3 or 4 years ago. Why not stop the need to be homeless and provide jobs and training?
    Can I sue the city for disregarding the taxes due from the building owner? Turning around to take more away another facility off the tax roles and do this type of conversion again? Feeding the addiction and not the solution.
    Poor, poor leadership.
    Meanwhile, my taxes are over a few thousand a month, more than some rents! And, you wonder why people ate homeless?
    Mayor Biss is Not a very good math teacher or leader. He is not recognizing the existing places and helping them secure funding to ensure healthy choices.
    Where does it stop? What building is next?
    How about buying the Hyatt? It’s modern structure probably has better facilities and meeting rooms, emergency size doors and easier access for ambulances.
    Attached Downtown Thrives:

  3. The entire conversation last night, with the exception of Ms. Kelly’s informed and very valid points about a lack of specificity and oversight, was classic City of Evanston nonsense (in the truest sense of the word). However, I find it hilarious to read former Ald Rainey’s comments here about filing ethics complaints. In fact, when I filed ethics complaints against Ald Rainey and asked for her recusal on Harley Clarke discussion after she donated to its demolition, Ms. Rainey not only didn’t recuse herself, but then proceeded to cast the deciding vote against her own censure at the next Rules Committee meeting, despite the fact that the ethics board called for it.

  4. I believe the one with a MAJOR conflict of interest is Mr. Halib, owner of the Clock Museum and the former King Home, immediate neighbors of the Margarita Inn. NIMBB!!

    1. Name calling is not persuasive, Ms. Brewster.
      Additionally, Mr Halib has given many suggestions for improving the Margarita showing his concerns are not focused on the shelter’s location.

  5. Was Ann Rainey capable of seeing clearly when she cast the deciding vote on a motion to accept and file a report of the City’s Board of Ethics that found that Ald. Ann Rainey violated two provisions of the City’s Code of Ethics? Durkes said, “It’s incredibly important to have an unbiased and impartial City Council.” Really? I agree with Mr. Durkes statement, but I also believe it should apply to all council members at all times.

  6. The level of cruelty it must take to distract the community by filing ethnics complaints because you do not want people to have homes is staggering. I said it. I truly hope we can be the community we claim to be by protecting the most vulnerable among us. Anything short of that is shameful

  7. Can anyone explain why an extra, time-consuming layer of special counsel was added to the process of adjudicating ethics violations? Why not simply have an attorney on the Board of Ethics who is qualified to review complaints, determine jurisdiction, and, if necessary, refer them for administrative hearing? I mean, if the case goes forward, the complaint ends up back with the Board of Ethics for final adjudication, doesn’t it? I’m reminded of the Shakespearean “law’s delay.” And if there’s anything we don’t need right now it’s more delay.

  8. I have also filed ethics complaints against Alderman Revelle and Alderman Reid.

    Alderman Revelle’s contributions to CFTH amount to $10-$25,000 a year prior to her being appointed to the council until now . To make it clear Alderman Revelle is to Connections for the Homeless what Pat Ryan is to Northwestern University.

    I really don’t want either to be found guilty of ethics violations. I want them to be ethical and follow the law. Because Alderman Revelle is rich and because Alderman Reid is poor does not mean they are excused.

    This is outrageous. Alderman Revelle, Alderman Reid, neither of you are capable of seeing clearly, when it comes to evaluating this special use.

  9. My husband and I filed a complaint against Eleanor Revelle but it was not limited to her donations. Council member Revelle was the Chair of a Housing Committee that votes to distribute federal grant money. Revelle used her position inappropriately to steer money to Connections for the Homeless and hid the fact that she was doing so by intentionally not naming them. It is not a small amount of money- $1M to be precise, and Revelle intentionally clouded the circumstances of the distribution of these funds to neighbors directly involved in the process. This goes far beyond donating to a favorite nonprofit. This is corruption.

  10. It’s very important to mentioned that bobby abstain himself from voiting I would like to know as to why he personally did not vote sounds to me that he is attached to connections for the homeless
    Somehow in someway!
    Also if they can’t vote in the margarita inn case why should they have the right to vote in any of HODC projects including the one going up on church and Darrow because connections for the homeless is HODC top client!