A citizens group faces a deadline next week to gather nearly 2,000 petition signatures to place a referendum on the April election ballot in Evanston that would increase sales and other taxes to raise over $7 million a year to fund a new independent police review board.

The city already has two panels composed of residents that review the results of internal investigations of complaints against the police, but the new panel appears to be intended to have its own investigatory powers.

Betty Ester, speaking at a City Council meeting.

Betty Ester, an organizer of the petition drive, did not respond over the weekend to emailed questions about the status of the petition drive or the cost of the proposed panel’s operation.

The total budget for the Police Department now is about $37 million, and the department, with a total of 226 full-time-equivalent employees, has a two-member Office of Professional Standards, budgeted at $518,000, to investigate complaints against officers.

The city’s Law Department, with 7.5 employees, has a budget of $1.1 million.

The referendum proposal, being circulated by the Citizens Network of Protection, reads:

Shall the City of Evanston establish a democratically elected independent civilian police review board of fifteen members, which shall be independently funded by one percent increase in sales tax, liquor tax, hotel tax, entertainment tax and rental car tax, which shall serve to increase: transparency, complaint investigation and follow-up, the protection of civil and human rights, and trust between the community and the Evanston Police Department?

The city’s current 1 percent home rule sales tax raises about $6.6 million a year, while the 6 percent liquor tax raises $3.1 million and the other taxes mentioned in the referendum generate smaller amounts.

A possible alternative reading of the referendum text — that it is calling for an increase of the sales tax from 1.0 percent to 1.01 percent — could not be implemented under state law, which requires the home rule tax to be adjusted by minimum increments of 0.25 percent.

Few details are available about how the proposed independent police review board for Evanston might operate, but it likely would be modeled to some extent on Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority, which was recently described in a Chicago Tribune editorial as being “beyond repair” for its failure to rein in a culture of police brutality.

The total sales tax rate in Evanston, including state, county and city levies, is now 10 percent. Combined rates in nearby communities generally range from 9.75 to 10.25 percent.

The deadline for filing petition signatures to get the referendum on the ballot is Jan. 3.

Update 9:45 a.m. 12/28/16: In an email message late Tuesday afternoon Ester said CNP is seeking “1 percent of the total sales made in Evanston” to fund the new watchdog group.

She said the group is still fleshing out a proposed budget, but envisions that the board would likely have “more than three” full-time staff members.

Ester says more than 30 people are circulating the petitions, but that she won’t have a clear idea of how well the petition drive is going until the group holds a meeting on Saturday.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Third board’s the charm
    Why does this board need $7 million, and why can’t these investigatory powers be given to an existing board?

  2. Wasteful proposal. Evanston

    Wasteful proposal. Evanston Coppers do a great job with very few complaints substantiated. 

    1. 7 Million

      I agree….EPD does a great job..and 7 million?  Really?  Total waste.  7 million could be put to MANY other sorely needed projects.  (kids in need of schooling, supplies, shelters, etc….) We are NOT Chicago……

      1. What $7m?

        There is no $7 million surplus; this would be an additional tax in a place that is already heavily taxed.

        1. 7 mil added

          Spot on……look at all the comments….this is a total waste of money, a committee not needed, and a travesty within the city government…AGAIN.    If this passes, someone needs to investigate the corrupt goings-on within the manager/council.   Anyone with even a half a brain can see that this is a laughable notion.   Work on the REALLY important issues within the city..that might be a superb idea for a change!

          1. Say what?

            Hi Verna,

            Please read the story. It’s not the city manager or the City Council that’s pushing this proposal. It’s a group of residents.

            So the leap in your comment to talking about “corrupt going-on within the manager/council” does not seem to bear any relationship to the issue at hand.

            — Bill

  3. I respect the Evanston police

    I respect the Evanston police mightily, and I don’t see why another, separate board is needed.  Have the present boards failed in some significant way?

  4. $7,000,000 tax hike?

    Use the money to start a City Council watch group.They sit around and and think of ways to waste our tax dollars. 1st thing on the agenda would be a forensic audit. The results will be a frightening eye opener for the hard working tax payers.

  5. 15 democratically elected members?

    With 15 members this would be, I believe, the largest city committee. There has been much discussion about the number of boards and committees that we have, so why would we consider creating one that basically duplicates another board. Oh, that’s right, so we can add a bureaucratic level to our police department, having our officers respond to multiple investigations that probably go nowhere. This board is designed to be a special prosecutor to investigate every small complaint against officers. If you look at the complaints against police in Evanston, which can be done on the city’s website, many are people feeling disrespected. 

    My second issue with this board is that it is an elected board. One need have no qualifications (other than a belief that we must add another layer of oversight). I have concerns that this board would be designed simply to give a platform supported by my tax dollars to push the narrative that the police are the problem. There are problems in the department, as in any organization where judgment is required, but think of the training that could be provided and the additional oversight by the existing board, or the additional OPS officers that could be added with a small portion of this request for a $7 million. Additionally, the current board requires that members be from different parts of the city; this board could be heavily concentrated in one or two wards. (I am sure if this board was comprised of a majority from the 1st and 3rd ward, the petition organizers would not be happy.) 

    If this referendum makes it to the ballot, I will vote no. Governmental bureaucracy will not solve policing issues. Chicago has proven that.

    1. Sunshine laws needed

      We really need “sunshine laws” where every three years all committees, Board and agencies [city and school] must submit documentation as to what they have accomplished and why they should be allowed to remain in existence. On the basis of this report the taxpayers can comment and an independent party decide if they should be re-authorized to exist.

  6. Independent watchdog

    I don’t think we need another taxpayer-funded watchdog. However, perhaps there exists support for an independent, privately-funded watchdog. A privately-funded watchdog would not cost taxpayers anything, other than any additional funds needed to respond to FOIA requests, and would not be part of the Evanston machine.

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