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Aldermen find it hard to fire volunteers

Evanston aldermen, who earlier this year voted to lay off several dozen city employees to balance the budget, this week found it hard to trim the list of volunteer city boards as another economy measure.

Evanston aldermen, who earlier this year voted to lay off several dozen city employees to balance the budget, this week found it hard to trim the list of volunteer city boards as another economy measure.

The aldermen, meeting as the Rules Committee, told City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to drop his plans to combine three pairs of volunteer-staffed panels, while voting to move ahead with one combination.

They asked for more information in upcoming months about two other combinations suggested by the manager.

Evanston has 36 such boards, committees and commissions, compared to an average less than 20 in four similar nearby communities.

Bobkiewicz has suggested that the city needs to trim the cost of providing staff support to so many such groups and proposed reducing the total number to 28.

The aldermen rejected plans to combine the the Plan Commission and Preservation Commission, although aldermen suggested both panels may need tighter oversight to make sure they’re only asking city staff to undertake projects that the aldermen believe are worth doing.

They also rejected plans to combine the Housing Commission and the Housing and Community Development Act Committee, although Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she believes the role of the Housing Commission needs to be thoroughly re-evaluated.

And they rejected the idea of combining the Parking and Transportation Committee with the Taxicab Advisory Board, although several aldermen said they think taxi regulation in the city needs a thorough review.

All three of those proposal had been resisted by members of the groups involved.

The aldermen voted to move ahead with plans to combine the Arts Council and the Public Arts Committee and told Bobkiewicz to have staff meet with both groups to work out plans for a transition, which members of the two groups voiced qualified support for.

And there was no objection to simply eliminating the Board of Examiners of Stationary Engineers, which hasn’t met for several years.

Other proposals were scheduled for further discussion at future Rules Committee meetings, including:

* Combining the Playground and Recreation Board, the Ladd Arboretum Committee and the Lighthouse Landing Committee.
* Combining the Site Plan and Appearance Review Committee with the Sign Review and Appeals Board.
* Reviewing and restructuring the Human Relations Commission.

The alderman seemed to have mixed views about whether to expand the scope of the Energy Commission to cover all utility issues.

That panel has focused primarily on electric utility issues and its members have said they lack the expertise to handle the cable and telecommunications and water and sewer regulatory issues that the manager suggested assigning to the group.

Some aldermen suggested creating a new panel to tackle the cable and telecom issues. But Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said that the skills of current board members shouldn’t necessarily limit the scope of a group’s work, because new members with new expertise can be added as the groups evolve.

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