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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. Advisory Groups
    These groups are valuable in terms of focusing community expertise on particular community issues, and they can provide valuable input to the Council.

    Most of them should be redefined as advisory in nature, and they should operate without city staff support.

    Members should be appointed by the mayor, subject to Council approval, but they should have no legislative responsibilities….only advisory.

    Other than providing the groups with a room to meet from time to time, there should be no additional financial commitment from the city.

    Reply:
    Actually, all the boards now are advisory — any decisions they make are subject to City Council approval. (The only exception I’m aware of is certain decisions of the Zoning Board of Appeals, which can be appealed directly to the courts.)
    Without some level of staff support it would be difficult for the boards to accomplish anything — but how much and what types of support they need are good questions.
    — Bill

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