Evanston Alderman Jane Grover says the firefighters union misjudged the resolve of the City Council to stick with the austerity budget it adopted earlier this year.

Grover, 7th Ward, interviewed this morning at a Bike to Work Week promotion at Fountain Square, said the city’s other unions recognized the crisis the city was facing, and agreed to contracts calling for no pay hike this year, an increase in employee health care contributions and unpaid holidays, but that the firefighters union doesn’t seem to have recognized that times have changed.

“It’s a new City Council,” she said, referring to the election of five new members, including herself, last year.

Grover said eight of the nine aldermen fully supported the decision by City Manager Wally Bobkiewitz to impose the layoffs, in the face of uncertainty about what an arbitrator’s ruling might eventually cost the city.

She denied that  Bobkiewicz was being vindictive in laying off three firefighters Wednesday from the 110-member department after the contract dispute was sent to binding arbitration.

“That’s not how Wally operates,” Grover said.

Grover said the nature of the fire department’s responsibilities has changed over the years, with an increase in demand for ambulance service and a decline in the number of fires in the city.

“Perhaps we need to staff a third ambulance,” Grover said, but will have to leave one of the city’s five fire engines or two ladder trucks unstaffed.

Gesturing toward the city’s tallest building, the 1603 Orrington Ave. tower, just across the street from Fountain Square, she said, “We still also need to be ready to deal with the rare event of a high-rise fire — but that’s what we have mutual aid agreements for.”

The layoff of three firefighters will reduce staffing from 26 to 25 firefighters per shift. With current staffing levels of three firefighters per engine or truck and two per ambulance, that doesn’t leave enough people to keep all the units in operation.

The city owns a third ambulance, but currently doesn’t routinely staff it. If the third ambulance is needed now, an engine company’s crew switches over to run the ambulance.

Grover said the city’s newest fire station, Station 5 on Central Street in West Evanston, gets relatively few calls for service.

She said that while the national target is for departments to respond to a fire call within four minutes, Evanston now manages to beat that, responding to most calls within 3-and-a-half minutes.

Related stories

City sends layoff notices to firefighters

Union chief decries fire layoffs

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

16 Comments

  1. Resolve or did she mean back bone?

     Thats easy for Ald. Grover to say, seeing as Northwestern just donated money for the City to purchase a new engine I doubt the engine protecting her district (Northwestern) will be closed down.

    I do agree that the firefighters misjudged this council, but it has nothing to do with resolve. They misjudged the council’s total lack of a spine. Wally B. has come in, imposed his will and made our elected officials look like fools, and with a few exceptions they have allowed it. My question to the Alderman, Mayor, and City Manager is at what point since a 9-0 vote not to cut fire staffing during this year’s budget process did it suddenly become safe to do so?

    What about the safety of those in areas that do not have a University and outspoken residents in high tax brackets. As somebody who has followed Evanston politics for years, but remained mostly on the sidelines this is too much. I want the city to save money as much as possible, but not at a cost to safety. As Ald. Burrus said less than 6 months ago "I’m a fiscal conservative, but when it comes to public safety issues, I am very cautious about putting our people in harms way." 

    I just hope when the council members need a backboard to stabilize that weak spinal column they are fortunate enough to be in a part of town that still has a quick response time. Then again Wally already has them paralyzed.

    1. Firemen knew the score….

      When the budget was passed, Wally B. also made it clear that the budget included assumptions that would have to be negotiated into contracts with the bargaining units (police, fire and afscme).  If they would not agree to things like 0% cost of living increase this year and unpaid days, there would be additional layoffs IN THOSE BARGAINING UNITS.  The AFSCME contract that was passed by council last Monday included those concessions, so clearly those workers got on board and the firemen did not.

      It’s not about saving money at the cost of safety.  It’s about the City not being able to afford the compensation packages (including the ever-popular pensions) for the different staff members.  I read so many posts here about City workers who need to understand the economic environment.  Aren’t the firemen also city workers?  Or are we supposed to write a blank check to the firemen?  Would the terms that everyone else is asked to live with be the end of the world for them?

  2. Oh, the power of suggestion

    They DID agree to settle to avoid layoffs but the city manager wanted the cuts from the beginning so he said TOO LATE.  This is not a fair negotiation per labor laws.  He is bullying them to sign off on what he wants in the contract.  The police did the same thing and nobody was laid off.  The mayor did not know the fire dept wanted to take the economic package.  Acutally, nobody did.  Wallys plan all along was to shut down a fire station.  The Union agreed to the pay cuts, unpaid holidays, 10% pay to insurance etc.  in a meeting with Wally.  Wally did not agree to have a min number of staffing in the contract- to make more cuts later.  This is what they are fighting about.  NOT PAY.   Know your facts.  He is shady.  I dont trust him runing my town.  HE IS FROM CALIFORNIA!  What does he care about Evanston???! The mayor is under his spell and has no spine.  Ill be first in line to vote for another mayor!

    They are making the fire dept look spoiled when in fact they tried everything before cuts were made.  Dont be fooled by this vindictive city council!!!!  They just love playing the "victim".  Typical politics.  The firefighters are fair and truthful.  They ARE understaffed.  They man a truck of 3 and Chicago staffs 5 on the same vehicle.  Evanston said they are counting on other towns to fight their fires.  O thats just great.  Real sturdy. 

    Why is it you think the layoffs were NEVER brought up in ANY city council meeting?  Only behind closed doors and secret meetings???  They dont want the public to know.  Real trustworthy this guy HA!

      1. Let’s get our facts straight

          Prior to 2009, Wally Bobkiewicz has never lived in Evanston.  He has never owned property in Evanston. He has not raised in children in Evanston.   His wife does not even live in the state.    He left the northwest suburbs more than 20 years ago.  

        What’s the point to all of these facts?  Wally B. has no commitment to our community. He will not have to pay for the mistakes he is making today.  He will most likely be gone in less than 5 years (like Rolanda Russell and Julia Carrol).  He will not see his property taxes increase and his property value fall.

        1. Facts Straight, Thanks

          Prior to 2009, Wally Bobkiewicz has never lived in Evanston.  He has never owned property in Evanston. He has not raised in children in Evanston.   His wife does not even live in the state.    He left the northwest  suburbs more than 20 years ago.  [Deerfield and Glenview are "Northwest" suburbs?]

          I don’t think your facts point to a lack of commitment at all. The evidence of his commitment is in the job he is doing: Managing the City of Evanston. He was tasked with bringing the City’s financial picture into focus. There is still a long way to go, but he’s been willing to make hard decisions. That’s how he shows his commitment. The rest is just surface noise.

          I don’t think a commitment to the community requires an Evanston address, owned or not; nor children in that Evanston address. Results matter.

          What’s your commitment to Evanston?

          1. Commitment

             How about the three firefighters who have made a commitment to serve the City of Evanston, and put their lives at risk if necessary? Should we simply overlook that commitment.

            How about the commitment of the Firefighters union that is rebuilding Firemen’s park? Take a ride by the park sometime. Those firefighters have taken on the task of renovating a park that had fallen into disrepair. The city had no plan to renovate it until 2012, at an approximate cost of $400,000, and that was just equipment, the total price would have greatly exceeded that when labor is included. However, because that park is a monument to firefighters, and July 22 marks the 25th anniversary of Marty Leoni’s death in a fire, the Evanston Firefighters are volunteering their own time, and hard work to make the park beautiful again. 

            Commitment is not defined by coming to town as a hatchet man, and making city workers in every department look over their shoulders. The firefighters, afscme and the police served this city with pride before Wally came to town and they will be here long after he blows out of town. However we are allowing him to make decisions in the short term that will set our city back for a long time. Laying people off is the easy decision, my 7 year old could have balanced the budget that way.  for $185,000 a year plus car, cell phone and housing allowances we deserve more.

          2. Commitment Cuts Both Ways

            I agree that the firefighters’ commitment – to their work, and to refurbishing Firemen’s Park – is admirable, and I never thought otherwise. I’m not sure why believing Wally Bobkiewicz is committed to Evanston would mean I don’t believe Evanston firefighters are committed to Evanston.

            We have a serious problem with finances in our City government, and it was a major issue in last year’s municipal elections. Aldermen pledged to do their best to fix problems. They wanted to avoid raising taxes and they knew it might cost jobs – jobs of people who were also committed to Evanston. They wanted an austere budget, which Wally Bobkiewicz provided. You consider layoffs "easy," but I’d counter that with the idea of what came before – procrastinating, spending down reserves, raising fees and taxes – was far easier. 

            What do you (or your 7 year-old) propose we do instead of what the City Manager has proposed? How do we pay for all that we want our City to do? 

          3. Lack of Originality

            The Council sold Wally B. to the citizens of Evanston as a brilliant city manager.  Instead Wally has proven himself to be mediocre and is using the same tired playbook as did Eric Anderson and Julia Carroll to the detriment of Evanston residents and city employees.  The results are the same.  The city government is in free-fall.

             If Wally B had any political courage, he would propose the elimination of the ward system and move Evanston to a trustee-governance structure.   The current ward system with its patronage and corruption contributes far more to Evanston’s financial problems.  Look how well the ward system has done for Chicago.   Only in a ward system can someone as obnoxious as Ann Rainey be elected.  

          4. obnoxious?

              Only in a ward system can someone as obnoxious as Ann Rainey be elected.

            What?  While I certainly do not agree with all of the actions of the Eighth Ward Alderman ( she has made and  allowed some untruthful comments about the esteemed Mr. Who Knows on her message board,  where enquring minds are prohibited from responding), she is hardly the worst of the alderman.   By far not the worst.

            There is a difference between sticking up for the interests of one’s ward – which may require someone to be ‘obnoxious’ some times – and putting the ward’s own petty interests ahead of the City’s.  Rainey at least had the decency to defend the Tower and vote for the closing of the wasteful branch libraries.  Meanwhile, other alderman have defended their petty branch libraries, fought the tower, and caved in to pressure from annoying "Neighbor’s" (Code word for NIMBY) associations.

          5. She is actually telling it like it is

            I may not agree with Ann Rainey on every issue.  But she stands up for what is right and defends the right of south Evanston residents to have a peaceful and safe community.

            I appreciate her willingness to tell it like it is, unlike others on the council who pussy foot around issues and throw money at every perceived problem.  She maintains a web board to obtain constituent comments and feedback.  She goes to court with her constituents to stand up to landlords who degrade our community with substandard property and no concern for safety or peace.

            Obnoxious?  No.  Frank, diligent and honest?  Yes.  I have voted for her before and I will vote for her again.

          6. More Facts

            Jim,

            You are finally right about something.  Results do matter.  This is exactly why Wally Bobkiewicz should be fired.  In ten months,  Wally has not produced any real results.  He could not get the branch libraries closed. He has acknowledged that morale within the city government is a mess.  He ran nearly $2,000,000 over projection and pulled from reserves to cover the deficit.  Even his anti-scalping proposal was a comedy of errors. Evanston is in worse now than it was ten months ago.

            As the private sector has shown repeatedly, it does not take any fortitude to fire a bunch of low level employees.  It is well-known that his reorganization has done more harm than good.  One senior manager is leaving each month (on average) for better positions. In this economy!

            Yes, I do want a city manager with a real, tangible commitment to our community.  I do not want a city manager who is using Evanston to build a resume. 

          7. Who Can Argue With That

            You are finally right about something.  Results do matter.

            That is what I’m right about? The only thing? Wally Bobkiewicz never grew up in Deerfield and Glenview?

            He could not get the branch libraries closed. Etc. Etc.

             Do I really need to explain how our city government works? The aldermen of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th all felt they should remain open. Pardon the cliche, but it takes a while to turn around an aircraft carrier. Anyone who thought this process was going to be easy is a fool.

            In ten months,  Wally has not produced any real results. This is exactly why Wally Bobkiewicz should be fired. 

            Well, who can argue with that?

  3. Teamwork

    During the last budget deliberations, many people I know were surprised that members of Evanston Fire Fighter’s Local 742 (Hayes, Scott, Ellis) publicly supported eliminating the jobs of members of AFSCME Local 1891 (Engel, Mahoney, Meyer), the City’s union that represents most employees. The Fire Fighter’s Union is a well-run, effective political organization in Evanston dedicated to protecting jobs and improving their compensation and benefits. Their door-to-door fear-mongering campaign this weekend is self-servingly sad. For everyone.

  4. The ire of government unions

    Judging by this board, it looks like union members have launched their personal attacks on Wally B.

    You know, Wally B. is not from Evanston, his wife lives in California, he’s a "hatchet man" who has the Council "paralyzed," he has "no comittment to Evanston," he’s trying to transfer his union pension to Illinois and he should just go back to California.  Blah, blah, blah.  

    You see folks, this is exhibit A as to how government unions pressure elected officials and government managers to get what THEY want – through money, coercion and underhanded personal attacks.  The primary motivation for government unions is to CONTROL as much as possible those in government for their benefit. Government unions are simply a powerful lobbying group that feeds at the public trough paid for by taxpayers and controlled primarily by Democrat the party. 

    Look how hard it is just to layoff three firemen.

    Now the gravy train is over and the strong bond between unions and politicians is fractured because hard hit laid off taxpaying voters are not to happy about the prospects of paying MORE taxes to sustain the sweetheart benefits and kid glove treatment of government unions.

    There are hundreds of Evanstonians who have lost their property through foreclosure, primarily in the low income neighborhoods. I know for a fact part of the reason is that many of them could no longer afford their annual property taxes, which in many cases had exceeded their mortgage payments.

    In these tough times, the answer is NOT more taxes as many Democrats candidates are suggesting, but less.

    When tens of thousands of government union employees marched in Springfield last month, demanding a TAX HIKE, whose interest did you think they had in mind? And who do you suppose was their primary audience? Democrats?

    You betcha.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.