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October 20, 2018

10/3/2018 2:24:00 PM
Lukewarm Reception to City Staff Proposals to Reconfigure Some Boards
By Mary Helt Gavin

City staff say that in pursuit of the City’s overall goal of making Evanston the most livable city in America, they are proposing to combine some City boards, committees and commissions (BCCs) to make them more efficient and cut down on staff time. The City has achieved a 4-STAR rating from the U.S Green Building Council, and the proposed adjustments would align committee names and missions to the seven livability categories of STAR communities.

STAR, Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities, is a framework of seven goals, 45 objectives and more than 500 outcomes and action measures that support local efforts toward sustainability. Its program for evaluating local sustainability encompasses economic, environmental and social performance measures.

At the Oct. 1 Human Services Committee meeting, Community Development Director Johanna Leonard and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz unveiled a plan to combine 17 of the City’s BCCs into eight, which are directly tied to the STAR framework, goals and metrics.

The seven STAR livability categories are Built Environment; Climate & Energy; Economy & Jobs; Education, Arts & Community; Equity & Empowerment; Health & Safety and Natural Systems.

The eight new entities – six “commissions” and two boards – nearly all reflect those categories:

• Built Environment Commission, combining the Transportation and Parking Committee, the Housing and Homelessness Commission and the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Board and the Lighthouse Landing Complex Committee;

• Health and Safety Commission, combining the Mental Health Board, the Animal Welfare Board and the 911 Emergency Telephone System;

• Arts & Recreation Board, combining the Arts Council, the Recreation division of the Parks and Recreation Board and the Commission on Aging;

• Economic Vitality and Workforce Commission, combining the Economic Development Committee and the Minority-/Women-owned/Evanston-Based Enterprise (MWEBE) Committee;

• Climate and Energy Commission, combining the Utilities Commission and the Environment Board;

• Natural Systems Commission, combining the Environment Board and the Lighthouse Landing Complex Committee;

• Equity & Empowerment Commission, combining the Equity & Empowerment Commission, the Age Friendly Evanston Task Force and the Housing and Homelessness Commission.

• Zoning and Development Board, combining the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Plan Commission.

These new commissions and boards would not only align with the STAR framework; they would also integrate STAR activities and metrics into their missions, programs and activities, said Community Development Director Johanna Leonard in a Sept. 21 memo.

At the Oct. 1 Rules Committee meeting, Ms. Leonard also said using the new categories would improve transparency. “Everybody wants to hear about the same things,” she said. “There are now different presentations, all correct,” but sometimes slightly different and coming from different sources.

Mr. Bobkiewicz noted that the City of Evanston is nearing the end of the 2019 budget process. The 43 BCCs take up staff time, he said, and he believes there are “better ways to focus the time of staff members and board, committee and commission members.

“We’re not asking for any action,” he said, “but feedback about how to have more connectedness in future years among the board, committee and commission members. … We want to see if any of this makes sense to you.”

The reaction was mixed, with some aldermen saying certain committees should not be combined and others suggesting the City board, committee and commission chairs be involved in the decision, and still others asking for a review of the STAR standards.

“It makes some sense,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward. “The board, committee and commission members will want to be involved in this. I suggest we present it to them. The only thing that gives me pause right off is [combining] the Plan Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

“The ZBA is a determining body, and it could be in conflict with the Plan Commission. I wouldn’t want the same people looking at [a project] from two different perspectives.”

“I find it very difficult,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. Like Ald. Wilson, she said she would like to see the Plan Commission and the ZBA kept separate. She also did not approve of combining the Mental Health Board with the Animal Welfare Board and the 911 system.

Mayor Stephen Hagerty, a member of the Rules Committee, said he cared about both the ZBA and the Plan Commission. “I don’t know how these two get combined in a City like ours,” he said.

Involvement of the BCC chairs and members appeared to be a necessity to some aldermen before going forward with the proposed reorganization.

“I wish we had a conversation with the committees,” said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward. “Did you talk to any of the [committee] chairs?” he asked Mr. Bobkiewicz.

Ms. Leonard said, “We posted the packet [online] and then called the committee chairs. We presented this to the management team a few weeks ago.”

Ald. Braithwaite indicated he wished to have the Equity & Empowerment Committee left alone. “I would like to see it develop its own sense of importance,” he said. He also said the MWEBE Committee “has a great staff supporting it. I would not want to see it combined.”

“I think we need to start thinking in this direction,” said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward. “We do have the situation where two committees are working parallel on the same ideas. And we have trouble finding people to serve [on some BCCs]. … I think this is a good start. Having feedback from the boards, committees and commissions is very important.”

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said she was concerned about combining the Mental Health Board with other BCCs, because of its funding responsibility. “My biggest question is this: We’re aligning with STAR. At some point, we should discuss whether we should be aligning with STAR standards. We need to have this conversation and talk to the boards and board chairs.”

Seventh Ward Alderman Eleanor Revelle said, “It does sound like we need a review of the STAR committee’s framework, looking at aspects that make a community livable. I’m surprised to see how many of the STAR communities’ goals we don’t have.” She added, “I’ll be really interested in what the boards and commissions have to say.”

Ald. Rainey said she thought combining the BCCs could decrease citizen involvement. Mayor Hagerty said he felt the opposite – that combining and reducing the BCCs would increase the number of residents who participate in City government.

Alderman Judy Fiske said she believed the matter “needs more vetting.”

Mr. Bobkiewicz said staff would return in February with additional information and recommendations.

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