Evanston aldermen Monday spent a half hour debating how to how appropriately distinguish an alderman’s private web site from an official city site.
The issue was raised by leaders of the Evanston chapter of the NAACP who were outraged by a comment Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, made in a private e-mail message describing two chapter members as “meddlers” regarding issues at Oakton Elementary School.
The comment, for which Ald. Rainey has since apologized, became public after the person who received the alderman’s e-mail posted it to a message board another resident operates on the same service that hosts several message boards the alderman runs. Those message boards in turn are linked from a page on the alderman’s web site.
The alderman’s web site identifies her as “Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, City of Evanston, Illinois.”
At Monday’s Rules Committee meeting, George Mitchell, the president of the Evanston NAACP, said, “I think in reality the easy way to solve it is just to take City of Evanston off there. I’m not trying to stop anyone from speaking freely.”
Mr. Mitchell didn’t specify whether he felt it would be OK for the site to mention the word “Evanston,” or if it was just the full phrase “City of Evanston” that upset him.
Since the controversy arose, the alderman has added a disclaimer to her web site saying in part, “this is not the official web site of the City of Evanston.”
City attorney Herb Hill noted that the site “doesn’t have the city seal and isn’t represented as speaking for the city itself. The statement that so-and-so is an alderman in this ward of the city is factually correct.”
“This is still pretty much a policy issue as opposed to a legal issue,” Mr. Hill added.
Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said that she “wants aldermen to have freedom on their web sites.”
She noted that she’s working to reverse a decision by the State of Indiana to let the oil company BP increase the pollution it pours into Lake Michigan.
“I don’t think aldermen should be limited in trying to influence another political entity,” Ald. Tisdahl said.
Aldermen Melissa Wynne said, “Most people understand that we are aldermen and have opinions. I think the 8th Ward message boards are very helpful.”
The alderman voted to ask the legal department to provide further clarification of the legal issues surrounding the matter.